Safer Sex Sapphist

Friday, June 01, 2007

Question

I just came out of the closet, but don't feel comfortable asking my doctor about ways to protect my sexual health when I am with a woman. Please help!

Answer

Terminology is so touchy. I usually have to make up the pseudonyms for my correspondents. I wasn't sure whether to refer to you as a girl or a woman, a dyke or a lesbian, and then thought the term "Sapphist" (from the name of the poet Sappho) might be rare enough to avoid the political baggage of each of those terms. But then I saw that I was running the risk of being too clever and obscure. Hence, this too-lengthy explanation of your "name."

Sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) operate differently within a lesbian context. Some health experts feel that the rate of STDs among women who have sex with other women is very low. This may be because lesbians tend to have fewer sex partners than gay men or heterosexuals. Most STDs are more easily transmitted during intercourse than during oral sex or manual sex with a woman.

Nevertheless, STDs do happen. Some vaginal infections can be sexually transmitted. Lesbians are at risk for herpes. Hepatitis and AIDS are rare but do happen among lesbians. Syphilis, gonorrhea, genital warts, and Chlamydia (to name a few) are also potential problems. It is difficult to track the frequency of commercial sex (prostitution) or injection drug use among lesbians. But these behaviors are known to take place, and can increase the risk of an STD.

To avoid transmission of herpes, ask your partner about her sexual health. Has she ever had a cold sore? If there are any open sores on her mouth, don't allow contact between it and your bare vulva. Cover your clitoris and associated bits with a sheet of plastic wrap or a dental dam. Putting some lubricant on the side of the barrier that touches your body can make it feel better.

Touching her clitoris or labia with your bare hand is safe if you have no cuts, torn cuticles, burns, etc. on your hand or fingers. If you have broken skin or she is having her menstrual period, use latex or nitrile gloves. Look at her genitals when you touch her. If you see any pink, spongy growths, they are probably genital warts. Stop having sex until she can get them removed.

Touching her and then touching your own genitals is a potential vector of disease transmission. Also, don't share toys. Always put a condom on your toys and wash them between use and before switching to a new pussy. Don't use a toy or your fingers inside her ass and then penetrate or finger her vagina. Clean up first. Wash off, change gloves and condoms. Anal bacteria can cause problems in the vaginal environment.

Use water-based lubricant. Oil-based lubricant can cause vaginal infection because it's hard for the body to absorb it or shed it.

If her vaginal secretions smell or taste bad, she probably has a vaginal infection and should see a doctor. Don't share towels until she has been treated. Towels, bedding, and clothing are also an issue if one or both of you get crabs (pubic lice). These little parasites itch like crazy. You'll need prescription-strength medication to get rid of them, and may have to shave as well. Bedding needs to be sterilized, and so does your underwear and towels. This doesn't happen very often, but crabs need not be picked up during sexual contact. The gym is a favorite "jumping-off" place for crabs.

Because some STDs are carried in blood (syphilis and hepatitis, for example), don't allow her blood to come into contact with your broken skin, mouth, or vulva. Get tested for syphilis and hepatitis once a year. If possible, get vaccinated against hepatitis B. This virus is much more transmissible than HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

All of this probably sounds horrific and cumbersome. But in bed, it can be easy and sexy to slip on a pair of gloves or cover her mound with a square of plastic or latex. Putting a condom on a toy can be done with a lot of giggling and sexy shyness. Nowadays, these are the kinds of things that responsible adults do to take good care of one another. Even if it's casual sex, you want to wake up the morning after and have no regret and no fear. I couldn't cover every possible risk factor in this one column, so keep reading about health issues and lesbians. A local women's clinic should have more information. Also bear in mind that you can't get a disease if she doesn't have one. Regular testing for STDs should be a part of every adult's health regimen.