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The Basic of Safer Sex for Lesbian, Queer and Trans Folks

If you’re in the US, many of us didn’t get any sex education at all β€” if we did, it was likely closer to the Mean Girls depiction than a thoughtful or medically accurate instruction that set us up for success as sexually active adults. And no matter how (relatively) good your sex education was, it likely focused entirely heterosexual sex. Many lesbian and bisexual women who are otherwise very well informed have no idea what safer sex might look like for them β€” and myths and misunderstandings abound. Here’s what all women having sex with other women need to know about safer sex and sexual health:

Lesbian sex can still transmit STIs β€” but you can reduce your risk

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Many of us don’t know as much about STIs as we think we do β€” and one common misconception is that only penetrative sex between cis women and men. Oral sex and even toys can also transmit STIs; and it’s entirely possible for anyone to be living with an STI without knowing it. None of this needs to be reason for panic, though; there are plenty of safer sex measures that can quickly and easily protect you from risk of STIs.

Barrier methods

When we think about safer sex for cis straight people, our first thought is often condoms. And barrier methods, including condoms, are still a great option for lesbian safer sex β€” even if the people having it aren’t necessarily having penetrative sex.

Barrier methods can include gloves or finger cots if you’re having sex with your hands; this can protect both people involved from exchanging fluids when they don’t want to via small cuts or wounds on your skin or around your cuticles. Wearing gloves is also more convenient and pleasant in some cases β€” removing a glove can be easier than cleaning lube off your hands, and can protect the receiving partner from the discomfort of ragged nails or rough skin.Β 

Condoms are also plenty useful in lesbian sex, and have more applications than you might think. They can stretch to accommodate many sizes and shapes, meaning they can be used to easily create a barrier around a huge range of sex toys. If you have a Hitachi Magic Wand or an Njoy Pure Wand next to the bed that you usually use for yourself but want to try with a hookup, you can put a condom over one easily and share it with your date anxiety-free.Β 

Condoms are also enormously useful for use with strap-ons and dildos as well as penises; it’s well worth keeping them in your bedside table. Condoms are helpful for any toys you plan to use with more than one partner, or use with one partner in multiple ways; it can cause infection to use the same toy for anal and then later vaginal sex, but using a condom means you can change it in between and continue on without a care.

Dental dams are perhaps the most maligned of any lesbian safer sex method β€” they can be difficult to find, and many feel that they take the pleasure out of both giving and receiving oral sex. At the same time, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can all be transmitted through cunnilingus β€” some might prefer an option like Lorals, which promise to be easier to use/wear than dental dams and boast material 0.07 millimeters thin for maximum sensation.

Safety and sanitation with toys and accessories

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For many queer women, toys are a fun and significant part of our sex lives, whether solo or with others. Although it can feel like using toys means avoiding direct body fluid contact, there are still safety priorities to keep in mind when using toys in any context.

Before even using a toy, it’s important to shop for the right one β€” some toys are made with materials that unfortunately aren’t body-safe. Often, sex toys are categorized for sale as “novelty purchases,” which means that they aren’t regulated by the FDA or other governing bodies for your safety. If you’ve shopped at a general online marketplace for toys and been delighted to find a super cheap toy with great reviews, it’s likely that the low price is due to using cheaper, unsafe materials that can leach toxic chemicals into your body. Just a few of these unsafe materials include:

  • Jelly rubber
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
  • BPAs
  • Low-grade silicone or glass

These materials should be avoided at all costs β€” look for toys that say they’re phthalate- and BPA-free, and that state they’re instead made of one of the following materials:

  • Medical-grade silicone
  • Medical-grade stainless steel
  • Borosilicate glass
  • ABS plastic
  • Lucite

Some materials are safe in certain contexts β€” it’s important to remember that to use sex toys safely, you should be fully sanitizing them regularly, definitely in between partners. Some materials, like wood and leather, aren’t fundamentally unsafe for your body, but can’t be fully sanitized because they’re porous materials that absorb body fluids. This means that they shouldn’t be used internally or for penetration β€” they’re more appropriate for external use, like wooden spanking paddles or leather strap-on harnesses. Crystal dildos are beautiful, but porous, so not able to be fully sanitized β€” clean them with antibacterial soap and water, but use a condom if you’re going to use them with multiple partners or with yourself and other people.

For those toys that can be sanitized, look up the best way to go about it for that material, or follow manufacturer’s instructions. Silicone, borosilicate glass and stainless steel toys can be boiled to sterilize. For motorized toys like vibrators that can’t be boiled but are still waterproof, a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach can be used to sanitize. (Never use bleach on your or anyone else’s genitals, and rinse sterilized toys fully after cleaning them.)

Lastly, when it comes to anal toys, even the safest materials won’t matter if the toy is an unsafe shape. What does that mean? Unlike the vagina, which has a cervix, the rectum doesn’t have a barrier to block foreign objects, and it’s easy to lose a toy inside the body if inserted in the rectum β€” this is why you hear about people needing to go to the ER to have toys removed. To prevent this, make sure that anything inserted anally has at least a two-inch base that extends beyond the body of the toy itself.

Regular testing and PAP smears are key

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Part of STI safety for anyone of any gender is regular testing, and for people with vulvas and uteruses, regular gynecological exams. Regular STI testing is part of a full commitment to health for both you and your partners, and can be a simple part of regular visits to your doctor or local health clinic.Β 

PAP smears for people with a cervix can not only help detect STIs, but more serious health risks, like the human papilloma virus that can cause cervical cancer. Unfortunately, many people β€” some doctors included β€” incorrectly believe that PAP smears are only necessary for women having sex with cis men. This belief only makes queer women more vulnerable, and means they risk having health issues go undetected:

“Pap smears are used to detect cervical cancer, spread by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV and some types, if left untreated, can cause cervical cancer. Most people with HPV don’t have symptoms and while the virus can go away on its own, it can persist and cause harm. While women most commonly acquire HPV through sex with a man, it can also be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact, or sex toys, making pap smears important for LGBTQ women as well.”

Lesbian and bisexual women can still experience violence and abuse

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Safer sex includes psychological and physical safety β€” coercive or nonconsensual sex is categorically unsafe sex, and queer women are still at risk for sexual violence. Experiencing sexual violence or coercion is never your fault, and not something you’re responsible for preventing. At the same time, being open and honest with others and with yourself about the level of safety, stability and security you feel in your relationships, and think about whether your relationship is one you’d feel good about a friend or loved one being in.

When getting to know new dates or sexual partners, it’s important to remember that they may have a history of experiencing sexual violence β€” prioritizing communication and explicit consent in sexual encounters can help make sure it’s safe and pleasurable for everyone.

For More Articles Check Out These Recent Posts:

Everything You Want To Know About Scissoring

Approaching Dating & Sex as Someone with an STI

Tips for Having Sex with Vaginismus (or When Penetration is Painful)

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