There is a popular notion that lesbians and women who have sex with women, have a certain freedom from worry about contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). As we should all know by now, pregnancy is off the list of worries, but STIs are spreading their nasty effects almost as easily as with all the other sexual ensembles. And here is how…
STIs can be spread through vaginal fluid, skin-to-skin contact, mucosa (vaginal lining) contact and menstrual blood. They can also be spread through sharing sex toys.
The list of STIs that can easily be transferred this way include Herpes, Human Papillomavirus, Bacterial Vaginosis, Trichomoniasis and Pubic Lice. There are reported cases of HIV being spread between women; although this is possibly the least effective way of spreading the infection, the risk does exist. Considering the outcome is more fatal than all other infections, it remains a concern.
Our old viral fiend, Genital Herpes, produces sores in and around the vagina. Actaully, sores can appear as far afield as the anal opening and around it, as well as on the crotch area. When sores appear, and they come into contact with broken skin, the virus is transmitted. This can even occur when sores are active but not visible. One strain of herpes (HSV-2) is only spread when genitals come into contact with other genitals, but another strain (HSV-1) can take the form of mouth sores, and these can be spread by oral sex or touching a sore and transferring the virus to other broken skin. It is important to get treated and avoid sex during outbreaks, since it is not only highly infectious, but also increases the chances of contracting other STIs.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
There are many strains of this virus, some cause genital warts (condilloma) and others cause cell changes that in time can cause cervical cancer. Many women do not know that they have HPV and this, along with the fact that it spreads very easily, contributes to making it the most common STI around the world. It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, or the virus can be transferred by hands or sex toys. A PAP smear is a simple test done during a gynecological exam, that detects the start of cell changes, and can nip cervical cancer in the bud, but it does not detect other symptoms such as genital warts. Recently a vaccine was developed to protect against infection of the common strains of HPV.
This infection is caused by a parasite, which makes it easily treatable with antibiotics. It is spread not only by sexual contact but also by damp clothes, sheets or towels. The signs include discharge with a strong odor, pain and itching.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
This is an interesting STI because it is more common among women who have sex with women than among purely heterosexual women. If a woman has symptoms, they will often occur in her partner, and yet the doctors have not managed to figure out exactly what it is that is causing the symptoms. It can cause discharge, itching and pain. BV also leads to the normal bacteria of the vagina getting totally out of whack. It is important to get treated, since having BV increases the chances of contracting other STIs.
These annoying creatures live in pubic hair and love to relocate to new surroundings, which they do by genital (or hair-on-hair) contact. The first sign is itching and it does not get much worse than that. Lice is easily treated by anti-lice shampoo or cream.
Other rare but contractible STIs include Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Hepatitis B & C and HIV. Although not commonly spread between women, it is important to know that lesbians and women who have sex with women are not immune to them, so any signs or symptoms should send you running to a health care professional who you feel comfortable speaking with, and who – hopefully – is adept enough in women`s health to know that these diseases and infections are possibilities in the lesbian community.
Playing it Safe
Being tested for STIs is always a great start; some of the sex bugs can be found in blood or mucous tests. In some cases sores that you may not be aware of can be discovered by an experienced health care professional, by doing a meticulous STI examination with a torch and a good eye. Another essential test is an honest chat with you partner about your sexual histories and safety habits. Until you feel comfortable enough to have this conversation openly and truthfully, and even then, if you’re not comfortable that you and she are clean, you need to block direct genital contact.
The various barrier methods are the way to protect yourself and your partner. Dental dams were developed especially to cover women’s genitalia. They are used with female and male partners, and protect the external genitalia (vulva). Condoms should be used for any form of penetration, be it with sex toys or fingers. Some women tear open condoms and place them across the vulva. This is not as easy to work with as a dam is, but it’s a lot cheaper.
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