Sexual Health for Girls who like Girls
“I don’t need to be tested for STDs, I only date other girls,” is a statement I hear at least once a week in clinic from an adolescent or young adult female. There are lots of statistics, clinical practice guidelines, and overall medical attention surrounding health consequences of men who have sex with men, but what about these patients? Don’t the ladies deserve some attention?
There aren’t a lot of medically accurate resources about sexual health for girls who like girls. It can be hard to find information about sexual health if you have questions about being sexually active or you are having sex for the first time. Unfortunately, health education classes at school might not teach about safe sex for LGBT youth (in fact, the sex ed being offered may not even be medically accurate: only 13 states require that the information presented in sex and HIV education classes be medically accurate, and Wisconsin is NOT one of them….what?!?!?). As an adolescent, a big part of having responsibility for your own health is advocating for yourself, but where do you start? Here’s some useful advice about sex and relationships for girls who like girls.
Girls can give each other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus), HPV (Human Papillomavirus), and syphilis can be received from skin contact and oral sex (mouth to vulva or anus). Girls who like girls can also get chlamydia and trichomonas from vaginal, anal, or oral sex. While some STIs don’t have symptoms, it is important to know what symptoms to look out for. The CDC has patient friendly fact sheets on STIs you can review. As a reminder, the best way to protect yourself against STIs is to not have any sexual contact or practice abstinence.
Certain sex practices can transmit HIV
HIV can be transmitted between female partners. You can get HIV from oral sex, genital contact, or sharing blood or vaginal fluids. Be careful to not share vaginal fluids, blood or blood-tinged fluids, menstrual blood, or have sex when you have open sores.
Even if you only have sex with girls, don’t forget that some of your partners may have had sex with boys
Having an open conversation with your partner about current and previous sexual history is important, regardless of who you are dating. You are more at risk for STIs if you or your partner have had or currently are having sex with males.
Barrier protection isn’t just for girls who have sex with boys
Use barrier protection, like condoms, dental dams, and gloves, to lower the chance of sharing vaginal fluid or blood during all types of sex. Dental dams should be used during oral sex. If you can’t purchase dental dams online, you can always cut a condom off at the tip and base, and then cut lengthwise to make a square surface. Click here to learn more about using a dental dam as a barrier for oral sex. You should wear gloves if you are going to practice manual sex (fingers to vulva, vagina, or anus) that might cause bleeding.
Be careful about sharing sex toys
There are rules for sex toy safety. Certain STIs can be transmitted via sex toy use. Sex toys should always be washed and cleaned each time they are used, especially if used on a different person. Condoms can also be used on sex toys that are shared. It is best if each person has different sex toys. Also make sure the sex toys are designed for the purpose for which you plan to use them (improper use can lead to an emergency trip to a health care provider).
You need pap smears too!
HPV can be transmitted between female partners. HPV has been found in girls who have never had sex with boys before! Every female, regardless of sexual orientation or sexual practices (even those who have never had any sexual contact) should get their first pap smear at 21 to look for changes in the cells on your cervix that may turn into cancer if left untreated.
On that note, make sure to get the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine can reduce your risk of cervical cancer, as well as other cancers like head/neck cancers and anal cancer. It is recommended to girls ages 11 to 12, but can be given as early as 9 years old. Depending on your age, the vaccine is given as either two or three shots. The HPV vaccine works best if you complete the series before having sex for the first time. Learn more about the HPV vaccine here.
Feeling safe in your relationship is important
Teen dating violence is not only a problem affecting LGBTQ youth, but one that seems to affect them at higher rates than non-LGBTQ youth. A national survey found that over 1 in 5 high school girls who have same-sex or both-sex partners were at some point forced to have sexual intercourse or experienced sexual dating violence (forced to kiss, touch, or have sex by someone they were going out with), versus 1 in 12 female high school students who only have sex with males. Keep in mind that dating violence can be physical, emotional, or sexual. If you are a victim of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE. If you are in an unhealthy relationship tell your doctor, someone you trust, or talk to an advocate at http://www.loveisrespect.org.
Find a doctor who knows about LGBT health
You should feel comfortable talking to your doctor about your sexual health. Many LGBT friendly offices will display educational material about LGBT health concerns and nondiscrimination statements in their waiting rooms. If all else fails, always look for a welcoming rainbow!
Where can I go for more medically accurate information?
There are lots of resources, you just need to know where to look. Here are a few resources that have been vetted by medical experts:
–The Impact Program out of Northwestern University. This LGBT health site has lots of blogs dedicated to youth, young adults, and their parents.
–The Center for Young Women’s Health out of Boston Children’s Hospital. Excellent, medically accurate resource for all things women’s health.
–Q Card Project – has information for both LGBTQ youth and their health care providers, with links to resources on how to make health care more inclusive.