“I’ve heard you can’t get an sti if it’s girl-on-girl.”
I’m afraid we have bad news for you if you thought a bit of carefree girl-on-girl action meant you didn’t have to worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Lesbian and bisexual women are sometimes told they don’t need to be tested for STIs. Wrong, wrong, wrong!¹ We don’t want to cramp your style but there are a few things you need to know before you next jump into bed with a like-minded lady.
With lesbian sex, men can sometimes be involved too. Not directly, but in terms of STIs indirect involvement counts too. Maybe either you or your lover aren’t committed lesbians? You could be bi-sexual and, depending how strictly you practise safe sex, this may well increase your chances of picking up or passing on an STI.¹ Even if you’re both only into girls, the fact is you’re still at risk from catching many of the same STIs that affect heterosexual women. During lesbian sex, you can pick up or pass on an STI through skin-to-skin contact, infections such as a cold sore in your or her mouth, vaginal fluids and menstrual blood.¹
Common STIs for lesbians
So, let’s take a closer look at the STIs that are most common in the lesbian community, as we outline likely symptoms and the most effective treatments:
Thrush is a yeast infection that affects most women at some point. This may involve itching and pain down below, soreness when fingers, hands or sex toys go inside you, a burning sensation when you pee and a yucky thick white discharge. You can pick up or pass on thrush during sex simply by touching each other or using sex toys. It’s treated with medicated cream, pessaries and tablets which can all be bought from a chemist.¹
Genital herpes is caused by a virus which you can catch during most kinds of lesbian sex. Look out for cold sores on your mouth and nose. If you’re lucky, you won’t suffer any symptoms, although you may get painful blisters and ulcers that will feel a bit like ants in your pants. Antiviral tablets are used to help with the healing process.¹
Genital warts are fleshy growths around your intimate area. They can be itchy but are usually painless. You can pick these up from skin contact, and there are a variety of treatment options, including freezing and medicated creams.¹
Trichomoniasis, aka ‘Trich’, might sound like a dinosaur from the prehistoric ages, but it is very much a problem of today. This can be passed between you and your partner during any kind of sex that involves exchanging vaginal fluid. Symptoms include a frothy discharge, discomfort when peeing, soreness down below and an unpleasant odour, although some women don’t suffer from any symptoms at all.¹
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are caused by bacteria which can infect various parts of your body including the cervix, rectum and throat. There may be a discharge, but usually there aren’t any symptoms. For many women, one of the biggest concerns is that, if untreated, these conditions might mean you can’t have children later on. Shared sex toys and intimate touching can be the cause, and antibiotics is the usual treatment.¹
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that causes a painless ulcer, which will eventually disappear on its own. Other possible symptoms include a rash and swollen glands.¹ If untreated, syphilis can cause nerve and organ damage later in life, but you’ll be pleased to hear it’s extremely rare among lesbians². In the early stages, it can be exceptionally easy to pick up and pass on from skin contact during sex. Antibiotic injections or tablets are used to treat the condition.¹
Tips to help keep you safe
Hopefully, that list of nasties will be enough to encourage you to take the necessary steps to try and keep yourself STI-free. Here are some of the ways you can do that:
- When you mess around with sex toys, use a new condom for each partner you have or when you go from one hole to another. You should also always wash your sex toy with soap and water before the next session.¹
- Avoid oral sex if you or your partner have any cuts or sores in or around the mouth.¹ • As we mentioned in the section above, some STIs can be transmitted by hands and fingers. So, make sure you always wash your hands before and after sex.¹
- If you or your partner are into fisting, wear latex gloves, use plenty of water-based lubricant and have fun knowing you’re still playing it safe.¹
- Get tested and encourage your partner to get tested too. Don't have unprotected sex unless you're certain you and your partner aren't infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Testing is important because many people don't know they're infected, and others might not always tell the truth when you ask them.³
- Limit the amount of booze you drink and don't use drugs. If you're under the influence, you're far more likely to take sexual risks which can lead to problems.
Durex can help
When you read a serious article like this, it’s easy to forget that sex is all about excitement and having fun. Safe sex doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, the peace of mind that comes from feeling secure can actually make the sex better.
Sex toys, condoms and lubes
A range of lubes and gels
Take lubes, for example. You can take your pick from orgasm-enhancing lube, tingling lube, lube for sensitive skin, specially formulated massage and pleasure gels and even fruit-flavoured lubes. Take a look for yourself and go wherever your imagination takes you. Above all, have fun and stay safe!
- Sexual health for lesbian and bisexual women – NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/sexual-health-for-lesbian-and-bisexual-women/ (Accessed 10th September 2019)
- Lesbian health – WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/women/lesbian-health#1 (Accessed 10th September 2019)
- Health issues for lesbians and women who have sex with women – Mayo clinic. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/health-issues-for-lesbians/art-20047202 - Sourced July 2019 (Accessed 10th September 2019)