Disclaimer: I am not a professional! If you want to find a professional sex educator please look at my "Resources" page. If you have any questions, feel free to ask on my ask site: FYsexeducationquestions, though check out my FAQ first!
A reminder, inspired by a female friend who just went to OutFest and was given 36 condoms and 1 (offhanded) dental dam
Sexually transmitted diseases/infections are not a “Males Only” problem.
Female-bodied persons CAN and DO get them from other female-bodied persons.
It is widely known that STDs/STIs are passed from penis to mouth, penis to anus, and penis to vagina, as well as the importance of condoms. But did you know that they are not limited to blood bourne pathogens such as AIDS (to which yes, lesbian sex has a far lower likelihood of transmission, though it’s not unheard-of)? Did you know they can include things like yeast infections or genital warts that are completely touch-transmittable but still very, very nasty? Did you know that they can also be transmitted:
- Vulva to mouth
- Mouth to vulva
- Mouth to anus
- Anus to mouth
- Anus to vulva
- Vulva to anus
- Fingers to vulva
- Fingers to anus
- Fingers to mouth
- Toy to anus
- Toy to vulva
- Toy to mouth
- Vulva to vulva
The ONLY guaranteed method of barrier-free sex without risk of STI/STD transmission is if both partners are completely virgins OR both partners have been tested for EVERYTHING and INCLUDING the six month wait and re-test and have had no partners in the mean time. Which, y’know, is great for you if that’s your thing, but if it’s not, you need to know how to take steps to be safe. Dental dams and gloves are your FRIENDS, and can be incredibly sexy if used well.
AIDs and pregnancy are not the only bad things that can be lurking in the happy parts doing happy things.
Be safe, sane, and consensual…use protection. Whoever you are.
Bolded part untrue! You can also get STIs/STDs if you obtained an STI through childbirth (like HIV), or if you obtained it through nonsexual means (Herpes, in the form of cold sores). Also regular tests do not test for Herpes or HPV and there is no way to completely accurately test for herpes or HPV unless there are symptoms like a herpes sore, genital herpes, an atypical pap smear, or cancer. You can go YEARS without any symptoms from both, and you can pass them without any symptoms. Some forms of HPV are completely asymptomatic.
Also, use of the words “female” and “male” is inaccurate as not only do condoms protect both the partner with the penis and the partner with the vagina and dental dams protect both the person with the vagina/anus and whoever is performing oral but not all people with penises identify as male and not all people with vaginas identify as female.
Also I really hate the word “sane” being used with consensual and safe, because the word sane is ableist.
Your Pap Came Back Abnormal … Now What?
If you have a pap test come back abnormal, keep these two things in mind: 1) Don’t panic. 2) Don’t ignore it. Cervical dysplasia is treatable and it does not necessarily mean you have or will get cancer. The keyword there is “treatable,” meaning you must see your provider for treatment to avoid detrimental effects to your health!
Freefall: The Web Series - About Going to College
Our Planned Parenthood is lucky and proud to have an in-house teen/young adult theater group, The SOURCE Theatre, to provide peer education throughout our community. Our latest project has been to produce a web series about some of the challenges young people face when they go to college - including binge drinking, sexual assault, STDs, homesickness, and more.
The “Freefall” website includes resources for the issues addressed in the episodes. We plan to beef up the content this fall.
There are 5 webisodes of 4 to ~10 minutes each; we hope you’ll watch … and share.
Quick note because I’m not going to be able to fall asleep until I get this off my chest
Having an STA blog is something I take very seriously. To me, it requires compassion, patience and understanding. Every person that asks me something is asking for a reason. Many are scared, vulnerable and trying to figure out how to deal with a diagnosis that is so frowned upon and socially stigmatized. Being diagnosed with an STD can be very lonely. It carries a lot of dumb socialized blame and shame that many other afflictions do not. I know that when I was first diagnosed I was absolutely terrified and I just wanted to know that things would be okay and that someone was there to listen. This is why I sometimes take a bit longer to answer things in my inbox. I want to give the most compassionate, educated, understanding answer I can. I just want to show whoever is on the other side of the monitor that they aren’t alone, they aren’t a leper and that everything will be okay.
This is why I get so flustered and upset when I see other STD blogs give out…sub-par advice that can negatively affect someone going through a rough time.
Having a life-long STD, whether it be herpes, HPV or HIV* does not mean that you’re a leper or that you’re sentenced to live in shame and celibacy forever. This is something that happened, it’s not something that should define you. It doesn’t makes you worth any less or have any less value. Yes, there is always a chance of transmission but as long as you use protection and take the necessary steps to prevent passing it (not having sex during an expression, etc), there is no reason you shouldn’t live a normal, happy, sexual (or non-sexual!) life. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re beautiful, you’re worth so much and you are not alone.
*I’m not comparing my plight with herpes to the plight of someone with HIV/AIDS. For more info, check out HIV blogs like Poz Living.
Okay, now I go to sleep.
Always so wonderful and honest, I love this.
Condoms and barriers for safe sex.
With any sexual activity that involves genital contact, barriers are important, and unless you and your partner have decided to be fluid-bound to each other, or unless you are sure that all parties are STD free and pregnancy is not a worry, it is advised that you use them any time you have contact with a partner’s genitals, whether with hand, mouth, or your own genitals. It is also recommended to use a barrier with any sex toy that is used by, or has the potential to be used by, multiple people.
Condoms, especially external condoms, are the most common and widely talked about and used form of barrier.
The external condom, as mentioned above, is the most widely discussed form of barrier. In many cases, it is the only one mentioned. It covers the penis during intercourse and catches the semen upon ejaculation. They are often made of latex, but polyurethane, polyisoprene, and lambskin condoms are available to those with latex allergies. (It is worth noting that lambskin condoms can prevent pregnancy, but are not highly effective at preventing the transmission of STDs and STIs.) External condoms are easily accessible, as they can be found at almost any store that sells cosmetics and health products (drug stores, Walmart, gas stations, etc) and there is a wide variety available, such as condoms with spermicide or without, flavored condoms, textured condoms, condoms with different kinds of lube to “enhance” the sexual experience, even glitter and glow in the dark condoms!
An external condom is effective at preventing pregnancy as well as most, if not all, STDs and STIs. The transmission of genital herpes (HSV 1 and 2) cannot be completely prevented using a condom, however, there is a lower risk of transmission while using a condom. (Effectiveness with perfect use: 98%. With typical use, 82%.)
The internal condom is fitted inside the vagina prior to intercourse and come in various sizes. They are most often made of nitrile, but polyurethane is relatively common as well. They are more expensive than external condoms and harder to find for purchase, but many say they prefer them to external condoms, especially in cases where external condoms, even larger sized ones, have been reported to be uncomfortable or too tight around the penis. There is also less variety with internal condoms than there is with external ones.
Internal condoms are slightly less effective at preventing pregnancy and STD/STI transmission, but are still highly effective with perfect use every time. Some say that transmission of HSV is less likely when using an internal condom rather than an external one, because of the larger area covered, however, there is no official research on the subject. (Effectiveness with perfect use: 95%. With typical use: 79%.)
- Dental Dams
Dental dams can be placed over the vulva or the anus before cunnilingus or anilingus to protect against oral transmission of STDs. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but only one side of the dental dam should come in contact with your mouth. Flipping the dental dam over exposes you to the bacteria that you were likely trying to avoid to begin with. You can use lube with a dental dam to make it more comfortable for your partner, or to make it taste a little better. If you are using a latex dam, though, be sure to use a water-based lube, because oil-based lubes can weaken the latex.
Dental dams are often made of latex, but for those with latex allergies, dental dams made of silicone are available.
If you don’t have a dental dam, you can make one out of a condom (internal or external, both work) by cutting the end/s off and cutting down the side so that you have a rectangular piece, which can then be used exactly as a dental dam. You can also use non-microwaveable Saran wrap, but be sure that it is non-microwaveable, as microwaveable Saran wrap has pores which allow it to be microwaved, but are larger, and can allow some pathogens through.
There has been debate over whether or not using medical gloves (made of latex, vinyl, nitrile, or perhaps other materials) while fingering someone, vaginally or anally, is necessary in all cases. However, it is strongly advised that one wear a glove while performing manual sex if they have any cuts or hangnails on their fingers or hand, to prevent infections and the transmission of harmful bacteria.
It is possible, however, that invisible cuts may be present on the hand and could allow pathogens to enter the bloodstream, so especially if you are unsure if your sexual partner has any blood-transmittable STD or STI, use a glove when performing manual sex at all times possible.
I love the use of the words “internal condoms” and “external condoms” the only thing I have to add is you can also make dental dams out of gloves by cutting off the fingers and down one side.
Oral Sex. What’s the risk?
Someone asked us:
Q. Not sure if you folks are the right ones to ask, but I was wondering about lesbian safe sex. What are the actual chances of getting an STD from oral sex? I’ve heard you can get herpes from cold sores, so obviously avoiding oral sex when one’s got a cold sore is a good plan, but outside of that, what are the actual chances of getting an STD from standard lesbian sex?
You’re right, herpes can be transmitted through oral sex. But keep in mind that it can be even when someone has no symptoms at the time. For lesbian partners, if one partner has herpes, the best way to avoid transmitting it to anyone else is by using dental dams for oral sex. Using condoms on shared sex toys is also a good idea to minimize the risk. Other STDs like syphilis and HPV can be spread through oral sex, too. And while it’s less likely through oral sex than through vaginal or anal, HIV can also be spread orally. Even fingering carries a risk — that’s why there’s no such thing as “safe” sex, only safer sex. For sex toys, using condoms and cleaning them regularly is recommended.
If you’re concerned about spreading STDs, you and your partner might want to get tested together beforehand and continue to get tested regularly, as some STDs take a while to show up. And if you go to your local Planned Parenthood health center, make sure to stock up on condoms and dental dams while you’re there!
-Tobias at PPFA
Here are some common STIs that should be on your radar screen:
- Chalmydia: Chlamydia is the #1 STI in the United States. It is a bacterial infection that is passed during sexual contact and can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eye, or throat. The good news? Chlamydia can easily be cured with antibiotics. The bad news? Many teens don’t know they have it because it usually has no symptoms. If left untreated, it can cause serious health problems. You can use condoms to reduce your risk of getting chlamydia.
- Crabs: These little blood-sucking bugs nest in pubic hair and cause a lot of itching. No contraception on the market right now will protect you from crabs. You can get them just by touching or being close to someone who has them—even if you don’t have sex! They can actually jump from one person’s pubic hair to another’s and you can also can get them by sleeping in a bed, wearing clothes, or sitting on a toilet seat that crabs have infected. Totally treatable.
- Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea—a.k.a “the clap”—is caused by bacteria that grows and multiplies easily in the warm, moist areas of your body, including the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, anus, mouth, throat, and eyes. Gonorrhea is pretty serious; if it isn’t treated, it can lead to sterility, arthritis, ectopic pregnancy, and heart problems. More than 600,000 new cases of gonorrhea are reported every year in the U.S. but the good news is that Gonorrhea is easy to treat with antibiotics. Condoms help protect against gonorrhea.
- Herpes: Herpes is a very common infection caused by two types of viruses that can affect your mouth (oral herpes) or genitals (genital herpes). Herpes is very easy to catch and can spread through touching, kissing, and/or sex with an infected person. Brief skin-to-skin contact is all that’s needed to pass the virus and there’s no cure for it—once you have it, you’ll have it forever (although there are some treatments out there to help you manage your symptoms). The most common symptom of genital herpes is a cluster of blistery sores but there are actually millions of people who do not know they have herpes because they’ve never had the symptoms. It’s crucial that, if you’re going to have sex, you know your partner’s history and use condoms every time you have sex (condoms can help prevent the spread of the disease).
- HIV/AIDS: HIV is passed to sex partners through blood, semen, seminal fluid (pre-cum), and vaginal fluids. You can get HIV from direct contact, like having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or sharing injection drug needles and syringes. Sometimes there are no signs of HIV at first—you might not know for sure that you’ve been infected until you get a blood test. Also, many people with HIV look healthy, but they can still transmit HIV. There is no cure, but treatments can help people with HIV/AIDS live for many years. Condoms offer protection against HIV, which is most often spread through unprotected sex.
- HPV/Genital warts: HPV—the human papilloma virus—affects millions of teens and is spread by skin-to-skin contact, usually during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A few types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer and other genital cancers and a few types can lead to genital warts. There is currently no treatment to cure HPV itself. Fortunately, there’s an HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and the types that cause most cases of genital warts. The vaccine is most effective if you get it before you become sexually active.
- Syphilis: Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria that is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis is especially contagious in the early stages of the disease, when sores are present. Even though it is curable with antibiotics, if syphilis isn’t treated, it can cause serious damage to your brain, heart, nervous system, and eventually lead to death.
For more information on these STIs and to learn about other ones not on our list, check out the American Social Health Association’s iwannaknow.org.
What’s your status?
If you are sexually active or have been in the past, do you know your STI status? Learn more about testing and find a testing center near you.
This is a great introduction to some of the most common STIs, & hopefully we’ll be expanding on this is our series of posts on STIs & STDs soon. If you’re in the UK & want to get tested, you can go to your GP or visit a sexual health or GUM clinic - you can find your nearest one here.