Ensuring you’re having safe sex is important for everyone, no matter your sexuality or gender identity. Just because pregnancy may not be possible with your partner, this doesn’t mean sexually transmissible infections (STIs), and blood borne viruses (BBVs), are out of the equation.
If you’re a woman who has sex with women, there are many ways to have enjoyable safe sex. Whether you enjoy manual sex (fingering), oral sex, using sex toys or other creative activities between the sheets, here you’ll find all the information you need about keeping healthy.
Let’s start with condoms; they aren’t just for sex with men. If you and your partner use sex toys during sex (e.g. dildos or vibrators), and particularly if you share these toys, using condoms is a must between each person and/or between different sexual practices (e.g. anal sex to vaginal sex). Using condoms on sex toys and changing them regularly during sex helps stop you transferring bodily fluids between each other (reducing the risk of STIs), or transferring bacteria to different parts of your body (reducing risks of other infections such as bacterial vaginosis). Basically, condoms are a great way to keep your toys clean and to keep your body safe, so it’s always good to have a stash alongside your sex toys.
The risk of getting an STI through oral sex with a woman is fairly low. However herpes (cold sores and genital sores) are the exception and can be easily passed between mouth and genitals. It’s good to talk about herpes with your partner and if either of you have cold sores or genital herpes discuss how you’re going to protect each other. There are a couple of options: you can avoid sex during, and just before, a herpes outbreak (you can usually feel when one is coming on); or you can use dams. A dam is a rectangular sheet of latex that is placed over the genitals to act as a barrier during oral sex. You can buy them online or get them from Family Planning clinics and sexual health clinics. Some women choose to use dams – talk to your partner about what suits you both best.
These may not be an item you usually think of when it comes to safe sex however latex gloves are an option to protect you and your partner during vaginal fingering or fisting and anal play. Like oral sex, the risk of getting an STI or BBV through manual sex is fairly low. However gloves can provide protection against skin-to-skin contact and exchanging bodily fluids (blood and vaginal fluid), particularly if there are cuts or sores present on hands and/or genitals, or if you/your partner has long fingernails (which can cause scratches/grazes to genitals). It’s important to remember to change the glove between different sexual activities, e.g. between anal play and vaginal play – as you don’t want to transfer bacteria from one area to another. Some people say gloves feel nicer as they are smoother than skin and sharp fingernails, particularly when used with lube (which is recommended).
Regardless of whether you and your partner choose to use gloves or not, it’s always a good idea to ensure your hands are clean before any kind of manual play, and between different sexual activities, as this can help reduce risks of infections (both STIs and BBVs as well as other infections like urinary tract infections). If you use gloves, choose between latex or non-latex varieties and ensure they’re powder free. Gloves can be found in supermarkets, pharmacies, online, or for more playful options try adult toy stores.
Lube is a slippery gel-like liquid used during sexual activities to reduce friction and can also make sex more pleasurable. Water-based lube can also help prevent condoms and gloves from breaking as it helps reduce friction. Don’t use oil-based lube as this causes latex to tear. Water-based lube is also safe to use with sex toys (don’t use silicon-based lube as it damages them). Lube can be applied to the outside of the condom once it’s on the sex toy, the outside of the glove when it’s on your hand, or on your or your partner’s genitals. Lube can be found in supermarkets, pharmacies, online stores and comes in a range of varieties (e.g. flavours, warming, massage).
STI testing is important for lesbian, bisexual, queer and same sex attracted women, as you are still at risk of STIs. It’s a good idea to have regular sexual health check-ups and to talk to your partner about sexual health and getting tested. Testing is easy and often only involves a urine or swab sample, both of which can be self-collected. You can have a sexual health check-up at GPs, Family Planning clinics, women’s health centres, or sexual health clinics. To find options near you search here with your postcode or contact someone in your state.
If you feel a little nervous about getting tested or seeing a health worker, find out what’s involved here. To find LGBTIQ friendly GPs, the Australian Lesbian Medical Association (ALMA) has a national list of doctors who are recommended by lesbian and bisexual women.