Even apart from the sexual taboos and the blatant homophobia queer women deal with on a daily basis, they also struggle with the multiple misconceptions and misinformation surrounding the very act of sex. The general notion surrounding lesbian sex is that it’s safer because of the reduced risks of unwanted pregnancies or the reduced exposure to STIs that are transmitted via direct penetration, but that’s not always the case. There can still be certain risks involved when two women have sex, and if you aren’t safe and cautious, multiple complications can arise. So here’s a handy guide to what to keep in mind when you’re a woman engaging in sexually stimulating acts with other women.
Contrary to popular belief, queer women are actually exposed to quite a few sexually transmitted diseases if they aren’t safe enough, and here are some of the most common ones:
Bacterial Vaginosis: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, bacterial vaginosis occurs when too much of a certain bacteria in the vagina ruins the usual bacteria balance. Though BV cannot be pinned to a singular cause, queer women are more susceptible to it when they have vaginal contact with multiple partners of the same sex. The disease can be treated through medication.
Genital Herpes: This is another STD frequently occurring as a result of lesbian sexual intercourse that can cause breakouts of blisters to form on the genitals, anus, thighs and buttocks which are extremely painful. Though this isn’t an excessively harmful disease, it’s still a genuine concern and should be taken to the doctor immediately.
Pubic Lice: Another STI that is likely to be transmitted through lesbian sex is pubic lice. Public lice, or “crabs,” are parasitic insects that infect a person’s genital area. It is usually contracted through sexual contact with someone who has pubic lice or personal contact with clothing, bed linens or towels of an infected person.
Even apart from this, queer women often have vagino-penal sex too, so they’re exposed to the more common STDs (like HPV) too. Hence, it is extremely important to get tested frequently and get the necessary medical help required if any of these diseases are found to be present.
A lot of lesbian sexual stimulation uses sex toys like dildos or vibrators to elicit sexual responses, which is why it is all the more important that these objects are taken care of as well as one’s body. Keep the toys properly sanitized, as the fluids they come in contact with can risk harmful bacterial infections and STIs. Depending on the material of the particular sex toy, there are different ways in which one can clean it. Fortunately, most toys can be cleaned with a simple antibacterial soap and water.
The structure of the toy is an important determinant of how healthy it is to use – usually, nonporous toys that are made of silicone, stainless steel, or Pyrex; and toys that don’t have any tears or cracks in the material, are best to use.
However, STIs aren’t the only health problem that can arise from unsanitary sex toys. The bacteria that can build up on a toy which hasn’t been properly washed can also cause urinary tract infections, or UTIs, which can be very uncomfortable and painful.
Though these are unfortunately, quite underrated and underused, they are still one of the safest ways of ensuring no STIs are spread during oral sexual activity. Dental dams are nothing but rubber barriers, similar to condoms, which can be put over the vulva or anus in order to engage in safe oral stimulation. They’re also extremely easy to use! All you have to do is hold them in place over your partner’s vulva or anus, and you’re good to go. However, it’s important to make sure there are no holes or tears in the dental dam when you open the package.
It’s also extremely easy to make one’s own DIY dental dam, out of condoms and rubber gloves. For a condom, just unroll it, cut the tip off, cut one side of the tube and you’ll have a dental dam. For a rubber glove, you can cut the top four fingers off and cut it down the side opposite from the thumb, and insert your tongue into the thumb piece and into your partner while still being safe.
While I have so far addressed mostly cis queer women, it doesn’t mean trans women are exempt from conversations about safe queer sex. There’s a whole lot of detail one can go into when talking about the nuances involved in sexual activity when one is transgender, but here I’ll address some of the most basic ones. For trans women who haven’t transitioned, it’s important to use a condom or birth control to avoid STIs, but it’s also important to remember that the androgen inhibitors one usually takes during the process of MTF transition is NOT birth control, and might still lead to unwanted pregnancies while engaging in penetrative sex with other women. Using a barrier (like dental dam) can also be beneficial in such cases.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns among LGBTQ individuals, especially in India, is to find a doctor who is open and accepting to queer identities. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. There are non-profit and advocacy organisations that often have resources and references to gay-friendly doctors, and there is also this crowdsourced list of trusted gynaecologists in India that includes many who deal with LGBTQ patients.
If you’re queer, and are confused about the various aspects of sex, don’t know how to go about having it safely, then know that you’re not alone. There’s always support out there, no matter how bleak the situation seems; and in the meanwhile, all I can hope is that this handy little list of tips and advice has assuaged some of the common worries.