Lesbian Sexual Health
Lesbians are at Risk Too
As lesbians, or queer identified women, we cannot afford to assume that we are not at risk for sexual health issues. However, it is often difficult to find accurate information in relation to sexual health for lesbian and gay women. Often the information is conflicting, and you're left unsure as to who to believe.
I will not state that I have the be all and end all of knowledge around sexual health for lesbians, but I have collected information from multiple reputable sources to provide you here. As a Registered Nurse, I will also add one more thing - if in doubt, see your medical professional!
Relationships and Health
Firstly, to keep ourselves safe, we need to ensure that we are in relationships that are healthy. No form of abuse is considered OKAY - be it emotional, physical or sexual - if it makes you feel bad, it's not okay.
Whilst physical abuse is the most well documented, and often the most obvious of the abuses that can be perpetrated against a person, it is often not the most damaging to a person. Emotional abuse can leave effects that last a lifetime - even if we leave the person who perpetrated it against us.
If you are in a situation that you feel unsafe in - please seek help. Friends, family, Women's Refuge, or any LGBT centers may be able to help you. In New Zealand, the Police Department have what are known as Diversity Officers - people happy and trained to deal with LGBT related domestic violence issues. PLEASE SEEK HELP.
Not Necessarily Promiscious
Lesbians come in all shapes and sizes, are into all sorts of different things - both in the bedroom and in life - or even not into all that much at all. All of this is perfectly normal. The other important piece of information is this - We are all unique, so we all came to the conclusion of our sexuality and sexual orientation differently. Some of us were aware from as far back as we can remember, some from when we finally had the words to explain how we felt, some of us after multiple failed relationships with men, some after MANY years of heterosexual marriage. Does this make any of us any LESS Lesbian? No. BUT it is good to remember that whilst we may identify as women who love women, some of us have had relationships with men. This means that STDs are just as likely to happen to us as anyone else.
Chlamydia is the most common STI (Sexual Transmitted Infection) but is rare in Lesbians. However women with Chlamydia often have no symptoms and may carry for years without knowing - so may be completely faithful to her partner but have been in a previous relationship where this has been around.
It is spread by penetrative sex which means it can be spread through the use of toys (particularly if shared without cleaning), or by fingers or hands.
Symptoms include - pain during sex, vaginal discharge, irregular bleeding.If left untreated, Chlamydia can cause problems with fertility.
It is easily diagnosed via cervical swab, and is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics.
Note: Chlamydia can be passed from a mother to child during childbirth (infects the Eye of the infant) so if you are trying to become pregnant, Fertility clinics will generally test for Chlamydia.
The spread of Gonorrhoea between lesbians is just like Chlamydia - through penetrative play. However it can also be spread by oral sex - which then affects the throat, and can affect the urethra.
It has been noted that a rare mode of transmission between partners can be via 'flannels' or 'facecloths' if used to clean genital area - due to the fact that the bacteria that causes Gonorrhoea likes warm moist places such as flannels.
Symptoms are often non-existent. However can include yellowy-green discharge, and a burning on urination (peeing).
Again, this is easily diagnosed with a swab of the affected area (Throat, cervix) or urine sample. Treated easily with a slightly longer course of antibiotics.
Ever had a cold sore? Painful, unsightly lesion on your lip? Annoying, and not the most attractive right? Well, one can also get Genital Herpes. That even sounds uncomfortable!
There are two strains of the Herpes Simplex virus - the virus that causes Cold Sores, and Genital Herpes - HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both can have either no symptoms, or painful blisters.
Herpes can be spread without a partner having open sores, or even being aware they have Herpes at all. Any skin contact is enough to spread the virus. Sores can occur on the lips (on the face, ladies!), in the genital area or around the anus.
Please note: touching the sores, or the fluid from the sore can transfer the virus to sensitive areas, particularly eyes where they can cause significant problems.
Cure? There is no cure, but anti-virals can prevent flare ups, and daily suppression therapy can reduce the risk of spreading to partners.
HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, is spread through contact with blood, vaginal or seminal fluids, during sex, or sharing needles. HIV basically causes illness through attacking the white cells of the body, leaving one open to all sorts of infections.
HIV transmission between women is rare, BUT not unheard of. Whilst is it not certain the exact cause of transmission between two women is - it is suspected that infected menstrual blood, certain sexual practices and possibly contact with vaginal secretions when there is irritation present.
Cure? No cure is known for this virus yet. Sources speak of vaccines being developed but none of these have been successful. Safe sexual practices can help protect you and your loved ones from infection - something we should all know well.
HIV is no longer the immediate/sooner death sentence it once was - with the use of good anti-viral medications - one can live a long life. However, life is more pleasant without the need for anti-virals and their nasty side effects. Be safe ladies - just because we are at a lower risk does not mean we are not at risk.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
This one is the one that causes warts - yup, all sorts of different ones. There are about 100 different strains of HPV, two of which cause Genital Warts, and approximately 30 odd that cause cervical changes that may also lead to cervical cancer.
Strains 6 and 11 cause genital warts - fleshy lumps in and around the genital region. All strains are spread through touch, these are very easy to transmit to other people. Treatment includes painting on wart paint to kill the lesion, or application of liquid nitrogen. There is also a treatment for skin cancer that can remove the warty lesion.
Strain 16 and 18 are the two strains that cause 70% of cervical cancers - this is impossible to see except under certain circumstances - under a microscopic in a histology lab, in the colposcopy clinic with certain dyes added - though this only shows up the changes to the cervix.
However, as an STD - it's a very common one, that most people will have come into contact with at some point in their sexually active lives. Keep up with your regular pap smears!
Trichomonas ONLY lives in the vagina, causing a frothy smelly discharge that causes an itch.
Transmission between women has been well documented - sharing of flannels, sharing jacuzzi. It is easily treated with antibiotics, and there are no long term effects on you or your partner.
This can be prevented through careful, clean practices - prevention being better than cure! (and sounding more pleasant than having it also!)
But In The End - Just Be Safe
Prevention is better than cure - play safe ladies, and you won't be needing the advice contained in this here hub!.
Otherwise - if you think you've got a 'problem' - please see your health care professional as soon as possible - this prevents spread of the STD, as well as easing your mind.