Health Talk: A Guide to Sexually Transmitted Infections

Health Talk: A Guide to Sexually Transmitted Infections

- in Health


Many people, including lesbian and bisexual women, don’t realize that sexually transmitted diseases can be spread through female on female sex. It is true that some sexually transmitted infections are far less prevalent among these groups, but the catch is that some others are much more common. Just as with heterosexual sex, the key to avoiding the spread of sexually transmitted infections is to practice good sexual health and to take some simple precautions.

Avoid Bodily Fluids

The golden rule for avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, and the only way of being certain that nothing will be passed on, is to avoid the exchanging of any bodily fluids. There are a number of precautions that you can take in order to achieve this. A dental dam will protect you from oral to vaginal or oral to anal contact. Even in long term partners with a clean bill of sexual health it is important to use a dental dam if you perform oral sex on a woman during her period. Avoid going down on your partner immediately after brushing your teeth as this can encourage bleeding around the gums. Similarly, make sure that if you use any mouthwash that it is free of salicylates (aspirin).

If you share toys with your partner then, as well as making sure that they are regularly washed, you should put a condom over them when they are used, and replace it with a fresh one if they are being used on another person. This will prevent fluids being spread indirectly.

A finger cot, or latex gloves, should be used if you have any sores or open wounds, even something as small as a paper cut, on your fingers.

A – Z of Common STIs

Allergic Vaginitis

This is a localized allergic reaction to something, the most common culprits are latex, lubricants, spermicides, and sometimes sex toys. The symptoms include irritation around the area (both inside the vagina and around the vulva), reddened skin, itching, and an increase in discharge. Because this often presents with both internal and external symptoms, it is often mistaken for something else, usually a yeast infection but sometimes herpes. It is easily treated. Simply identify what is causing the problem and find an alternative that you are not allergic to.

Bacterial Vaginosis

There are many different bacteria in the vagina, most of them are beneficial and serve important protective functions, however sometimes the balance of bacteria can be disturbed and an imbalance occurs. When this delicate balance is thrown out of whack, problems occur. Bacterial vaginosis leads to a yellow and gray discharge, and sometimes is also accompanied by a fishy smell. Irritation in and around the vagina is also common. A common cause of bacterial vaginosis is douching, which involves using water to clean the inside of the vagina. It is generally accepted that douching provides no benefits, but does introduce the risk of numerous complications. The vagina is able to clean and maintain itself with minimal extra input from its owner; trying to clean it with water will only wash away the very bacteria that your body produces to do that job. Bacterial infections can also lead to bacterial vaginosis, but these cases are easily resolved with oral antibiotics.


Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection, but is rarely found in lesbians. Chlamydia is passed on through penetrative sex acts and so is mostly passed between lesbians through toys or fingers. Chlamydia is particularly concerning because it usually has no obvious symptoms but can ultimately cause infertility. For this reason, it is important that sexually active women are periodically tested for sexually transmitted infections. If you live somewhere with high STD rates then you need to get checked more frequently. In women who do experience symptoms, these most commonly include pain during penetrative sex, pain when urinating, an increase in vaginal discharge, and irregular and unexpected bleeding. It is treated with antibiotics.


Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is spread through penetrative sex and so the same precautions apply. However, unlike chlamydia, gonorrhea can also be transmitted through oral sex and can cause symptoms in the throat and urethra. Like chlamydia, there are often no symptoms; when they do present it is usually in the form of increased discharge and pain when urinating. The treatment is antibiotics.


Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver and can have a number of root causes. The symptoms include a yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), a loss of appetite, stomach pain, and persistent fatigue, and stomach pain. There are three main strains of the hepatitis virus, known respectively as A, B, and C.

  • Hepatitis A is found in fecal matter and can be transmitted through unprotected oral-anal contact.
  • Hepatitis B is spread through blood and other bodily fluids. It takes very little blood or other fluids to transmit the virus, transmission between female partners is possible.
  • Hepatitis C is spread almost exclusively through blood and so sexual transmission is rare.


Syphilis is a potentially very serious disease which can easily be fatal if left untreated. It is transmitted through contact with the sores and rashes that it causes. When left untreated, syphilis can cause extensive damage to the brain, heart, nervous system, and kidneys. The good news is that syphilis is easy to spot, the first symptom being the formation of the characteristic sores, and is simply treated with penicillin.

Other Precautions

Other than making sure to avoid any exchange of bodily fluids when possible, other simple ways of ensuring that you and your partner remain as safe as possible are to schedule regular screenings with your doctor to check for sexually transmitted infections. If you notice any of the common symptoms such as changes in the color, texture, or consistency of your vaginal discharge, pain during penetrative sex, a burning sensation when peeing, sores around your genitals or mouth, and bleeding or spotting between periods, then you should speak to your doctor.

Most sexually transmitted diseases are easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. Thankfully, they rarely develop into anything serious, but you should regularly get tested to make sure that you aren’t suffering with an invisible condition such as chlamydia which can ultimately cause infertility.

Photo by Kevin Johnston



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