The sexual health of queer women is difficult to discuss when there is such minimal information to share and even fewer protection options but the topic is even more important.
For the sexually active heterosexual woman the standard has been set: when in doubt carry your own. Protection that is, we are talking about protection. Every teenager receives some form of sexual education in school but because of reasons to do with stigma, legislation, tradition and culture sex education does not cover queer sex. For gay men this doesn't really present an issue because lucky for them male privilege dictates that sexual education even in limited forms extensively covers the male anatomy. Meaning, we all learn how to put a condom on a banana but we don't even know that dental dams exist.
The mainstreaming of sexual health for heterosexuals makes it difficult to discuss queer women's health issues because there hasn't been enough research done on the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV in queer women.
Even more telling is casual conversations and interviews, which show that most queer women are not having safe sex due to the fact that they don't have to worry about unplanned pregnancy. There's also the assumption that the risk of contracting STIs from partners is fairly low, which deems protection "superfluous". Both these reasons lead to the general perception that once off encounters do not warrant the uncomfortable protection conversations that prelude sex. Apparently, no one is really thinking about protection in the heat of the moment when you "know" queer sex means you're "in the clear".
So allow me to dispel these misconceptions for the queer folk with a list of STIs that you can in fact contract:
HPV Human Papilloma: The virus is probably the most common STI as its transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. This means that even if you only have sex with women, you're still at risk for infection. The virus is sneaky too, because it can lay latent in your body, so without being tested, you may never know you have it. A history of HPV infection is the single most significant risk factor for developing cervical cancer two strains in particular have been identified to cause over 75% of cervical cancer while some strains cause genital warts.
Medical Fix: Get a pap smear. Cervical cancer takes years to develop, so going to the gynecologist gives you a good chance of never having the disease progress any further
Gonorrhea & Chlamydia: Gonorrhea and chlamydia can be transmitted through sharing toys, bodily fluids, and genital contact. These infections can be silent, or can present with symptoms like burning when you pee, discharge and stomach pain.
Medical Fix: Luckily, both are easily treated with a quick dose of antibiotics. Without treatment, however, gonorrhea and chlamydia can progress to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and serious infections, among other things
Bacterial vaginosis: queer women seem to be at increased risk for transmitting and acquiring the infection. It can be silent, or announce itself with white-ish discharge and a fishy smell, but is usually not itchy or painful like a yeast infection. We're not exactly sure how it's transmitted, but the likely routes are through sex toys, oral and oral-anal sex. Ultimately women who engage in vulva to vulva sex are at a higher risk of transmitting bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Medical Fix: when one partner has it, the other partner is often infected too. If you happen to find yourself with this infection, bring your partner with you to the doctor, and have her get tested as well
Yeast Infections/Candidiasis: vaginal thrush (or yeast infections) is remarkably common: almost three-quarters of women will get a yeast infection at least once in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The cardinal symptom of yeast infection is itching accompanied by a thick white discharge from the vagina. Queer women give each other Yeast Infections all the of the time.
Medical Fix: In uncomplicated yeast infections, over-the-counter treatments can be quite effective but if symptoms persist, a visit to your family doctor or gynecologist is a must. Remember BV can present as a yeast infection so do not self-medicate for a yeast infection when you are sexually active with over the counter products as that can actually make BV much worse.
Herpes: It can be transmitted through oral or genital sex. There is treatment for herpes, which will cause you to have fewer outbreaks, but won't cure you. The tricky thing about herpes is, even if you do not have an active sore, you can still transmit the infection to your partner.
Medical Fix: There are ways to predict when you are infectious, so talk to your doctor and get regular checks
HIV: The virus can be transmitted through blood, genital secretions and breast milk, but not saliva. There aren't a lot of statistics out there on risks of HIV transmission in queer women
Medical Fix: Knowing your status gives you access to informed options that can protect both you and your partner
So now that we've outlined what you can contract as a sexually active queer woman shall we talk sex fixes and protection? There are plenty of things that you can do to insure a safe and sexy time is had by all.
1. Wash your hands before getting down and dirty. It may sound basic but it staves away infections.
2. Dental dams are probably the most unsexy thing on the planet but they're super easy to use and effective. You just put down the rubber barrier on your partner's vulva and go to town.
3. Get yourself a sexy box of gloves to keep on hand or in your night side table. Gloves are multi-purpose and pretty self-explanatory.
4. Don't share sex toys and if you do, use a condom, or properly clean them with soap and water before switching to a new user.
5. Keep condoms around as well. Why? a. You should use them if you're sharing sex toys with different partners (even if you clean your toys, as you should). b. You can cut a condom down the middle to create a makeshift dental dam. It's important to note that this is not ideal, but good to have as a backup.
6. Share sexual History one of the best things that you and your partner can do to protect yourselves and one another, is to communicate! Talk about whether you've had sex with men in the past, if you've been tested before and if you haven't been tested, (and I hope we've covered this) get tested.
It's unfortunate that all things sex are targeted at male pleasure and you can easily find condoms in all shapes, flavours and textures for men. However, protection that is targeted at the other half of the population is often cumbersome and impractical. But this article isn't about practicality, it's about education and options so do yourself a favour sis and delve deeper into what works best for you and keeps your sexual health intact.