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Have you noticed that a large group of people are often left out of the sexual health conversation?
While most sex ed seems to focus on male/female relationships, not much attention is put on same-sex (particularly same-sex female) relationships.
But the truth is: if you’re a girl hooking up with another girl, you owe it to both of you to keep yourselves healthy.
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Most people know that abstaining is the only true way to avoid any STI transmission (whether you are male or female). But if you’re female and decide to enter into a sexual relationship with another girl — even though you don’t have to worry about pregnancy — STIs should definitely be on your radar.
It’s easy to think that this is less of an issue, especially since we are often told that people who engage in penile/vaginal intercourse have a higher risk of STI transmission. But (and this is a big, important but), STIs can also be transmitted through things like oral sex and genital touching.
Put simply: “Anybody can get an STD from engaging in sexual behavior with any other human being,” explains Dr. Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood.
In other words, your gender or the gender of your partner doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter if you’re in a committed same-sex relationship or if you’re experimenting for the very first time.
What counts is whether you or your partner has a STI at the time. One of the most common mistakes people make is assuming that you can tell whether someone has a STI just by looking at her. This is 100 percent false.
“The tricky thing is that a lot of people don’t realize they have them,” Dr. Kantor says. “Unless people get tested, they really don’t know.”
Some common STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, are often asymptomatic (meaning they don’t have any symptoms). Others, like herpes, may be visible only during a flare-up — and even then, the outbreak could be microscopic.
This is why STI screening is so important; it’s the only way for you and your partner to be sure. Many national organizations like the American Sexual Health Association and Planned Parenthood offer STI testing in your city.
And regardless of your current STI status, you can always reduce the risk of transmission by practicing safer sex.
If you’re hooking up with another girl, here’s what that could look like. “A barrier will reduce the risk,” Dr. Kantor says. “For oral sex, you can use a dental dam or cut-up condom to keep any potentially infected fluid out of the mouth.”
This method can also protect your genitals in case your partner has herpes that manifests in the mouth. (Again, herpes can be transmitted even without an active cold sore.)
So how can you broach the subject without killing the mood?
When you’re really into someone, bringing up STIs might feel awkward. And that’s totally normal, Dr. Kantor says. We have all been there.
With women in same-sex relationships, “it may not be as simple as just pulling out a condom,” Dr. Kantor says. “There’s more discussion to be had. The key is to think about it in advance and have your opening line ready.”
She suggests practicing with a trusted friend, and not to worry about sounding perfect. If you’re having the convo with someone you’re involved with (sexually, romantically, etc.) you already know they’re interested.
It’s important to remember that having an STI doesn’t mean a person is dirty, gross, or promiscuous. (You wouldn’t call someone dirty for catching a cold, right?)
“We need to reduce stigma and shame around [STIs] so people will feel more comfortable talking about them,” Dr. Kantor says.
The good news is that many infections can be treated easily — and many others can be managed. Add in some open communication and know-how, and you can really minimize your risk (and focus on lighter, more pleasurable things…)!