Helen Smith and Dr. Patricia Robertson
Who can get Sexually
Transmitted Infections (STIs)? Anyone who has sexual relations with
an infected person can get STIs. Many lesbians are under the illusion
that they cannot contract STIs from another woman. The truth is,
STIs are easily spread from woman to woman via unprotected sex.
Another misconception is the belief that only bisexual women bring
STIs into the lesbian community. STIs can be transmitted from woman
to woman as well as from man to woman. Bisexual women are not the
cause of STIs among lesbians.
We are not going to use
scare tactics for you to abstain from sex, or insist that have protected
sex all the time. It is your decision, but we want to prepare you
with information so you can make the best decisions for your health
and well being.
We also would like you
to consider the health of your sexual partner(s). If you have a
sexually transmitted infection, it is best to take precautions and
inform sexual partners before you have sex. This will give your
partner(s) a choice. If you have any STIs and do not know how to
speak to your partner(s) about it, or are having difficulty dealing
with it, you may want to seek help from health professionals or
from others who have STIs. You may feel alienated or embarrassed,
but you are not alone. There are many others who have STIs, and
you are entitled to a sexual life and intimate relationships.
Transmitted Diseases (STIS)
following STIS can be transmitted sexually from woman to woman.
For the most recent information on Lesbian and STIs, go to LesbianSTD.com.
Caused by bacteria, chlamydia can do damage to reproductive organs
such as the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes. It often has mild
to no symptoms and is known as a silent infection. Chlamydia is
transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Since it it hard
to detect, chlamydia is often passed from one person to the next
without the infected person even knowing he/she has it. This sexually
transmitted infection can also be passed from mother to child during
childbirth. Often times it is found in those who have also contracted
Young women (who have been occasionally been sexually active with
men) should routinely get chlamydia and gonorrhea cultures
with their annual exams because women carry these two STIs without
Gonorrhea, also known as "the clap", is caused by a bacteria
that is often present in the vagina, penis, eyes, throat, and rectum.
When one comes in contacted with the bacteria, infection can occur.
It is possible to spread this sexually transmitted infection from
one part of the body to another via touch. Symptoms are different
in men and women. Women may have abnormal bleeding, irritability
in outer portions of vagina, vaginal discharge, and burring during
urination. Men may may experience pus-like discharge from penis,
painful urination, blood in their urine, reddening of the penis
head, and a swelling of the groin. Read more on gonorrhea
through the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases.
There are many types
of hepatitis, and some are spread via sexual contact with an
infected person. This STI may be passed from person to person through
the sexual exchange of blood, vaginal or seminal fluids. It can
also be spread through anal sex. Hepatitis leads to liver damage,
and possibly progresses into some types of cancer.
Herpes is transmitted by oral, anal, or genital contact. It can
be spread by kissing or any skin-to-skin contact in which there
is an exchange of bodily fluids. Herpes is considered most contagious
when the symptoms are present, but may also be contagious when no
symptoms are visible. The symptoms are open sores, blisters, itching,
and pain/irritation in the infected area. Read more about herpes
through information provided by the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. One
does not get AIDS right away. First one contracts HIV (Human Immunodeficiency
Virus) through an exchange of bodily fluids (blood, vaginal fluid,
semen, or breast milk) with an infected person. It can be spread
through sex or sharing needles with an infected person. HIV can also
be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, birth, or breast
feeding. The HIV virus weakens the immune system and once the immune
system is severely damaged, HIV becomes AIDS. This process may take
years, or it could occur rapidly. To learn more about HIV/AIDS
visit The Body,
an HIV and AIDS information source. Also, visit the
Question/Answer on our LHRC site.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV), more commonly known as genital warts,
can be spread orally, genitally, or anally during sex with an
infected partner. Genital warts can be seen on the outer and inner
vagina, on the cervix, around the anus, in the throat, on the penis
(usually the tip) and scrotum. It often appears and/or spreads in
clusters resembling cauliflower. The symptoms do not have to be
noticeable for an infected person to pass it to another. To learn
more on genital
warts review the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases web pages.
Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) refers to a group of
sexually transmitted diseases/infections caused by bacteria or viruses.
It is an infection of the internal reproductive organs: uterus,
fallopian tubes, ovaries, and surrounding pelvic tissues. These
areas may become inflamed, irritated, and/or swollen. If untreated
infertility may result. Two common types of PID are chlamydia and
and gonorrhea. PID can be passed via sex, but may also occur after
surgery to the genital area, abortions, pap smears, and insertion
of IUDs. To review more on PID
visit the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Web site.
Pubic Lice, also known as crabs, consist of small parasitic insects
that live in the genital areas and/or areas of coarse hair (eyebrows,
mustache, arm pit hair and leg hair) of humans. Pubic Lice is transmitted
through direct contact with the genitals; however, it can also be
spread via sheets, towels, or clothes. You can get rid of pubic
lice by purchasing a cream or shampoo at your pharmacy. Learn more
lice through the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention's Web site.
When tiny microscopic mites burrows in the skin and lays
eggs, one is said tohave scabies. Upon hatching the mites come to
the surface of the skin. Scabies is contracted through close skin-to-skin
contact. Sexual contact is a way scabies can be spread, but one
does not have to have sexual intercourse to spread it to another
person. It often causes red bumps and itching around the infected
areas which are often the feet, fingers, and genitalia. To learn
more about scabies
check out the American Academy of Dermatology's
Syphilis is transmitted through direct contact with a sore. Syphilis
is found in areas of the anus, genitals, rectum, vagina, cervix,
and mouth. It is sometimes hard to detect because the sores that
appear seem to clear up on its own; however it stays in the body
damaging internal organs. To learn more about syphilis
review information supplied by the Center
for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trich (Trichomoniasis) is caused by a single-celled protozoan parasite
called Trichomonas Vaginitis, which commonly infects the urgently
tract. It can be transmitted via sexual contact. Trich occurs in
the vagina of the woman and the urethra of the man. It often has
no symptoms, appears to cause irritation, vaginal discharge, odor,
and/or itching. It is transmitted via sexual contact. It can easily
be ransmitted between lesbians, and if one lesbians is diagnosed
with it, her partner needs to be treated at the same time she
being treated, so re-infection does not occur.If untreated vaginal
discharge could cause skin irritation around genitals and inner
thighs, and inflammation of the fallopian tubes. To learn more
about trich visit the Trich Question/Answer
on our LHRC site.
There are three common types of vaginitis. Allergic Vaginitis
is often a reaction to spermicides or latex. Atrophic Vaginitis
is often a result of low amounts of estrogen, often during times
of menopause, breast feeding. Bacterial Vaginitis is type
of vaginitis that results when there is an overgrowth of naturally
occurring vaginal bacteria. Bacterial Vaginosis is when certain
bacteria which do not require oxygen (anaerobic) over-grow in the
vagina, often creating a yellow or green stain on the underwear,
with an odor. Vaginitis most often is detected through laboratory
tests of vaginal fluid and not based primarily on physical examination
and symptoms. There are numerous organisms that may cause vaginitis,
and can be caused by products that cause a reaction. It may be transmitted
sexually, but may have other causes. For example the risk factors
of bacterial vaginitis are: a new sexual partner, multiple sexual
partners, oral sex, and douching. It can also occur from reactions
to spermacides and detergent. To read more about vaginitis
visit Planned Parenthood's
Most yeast infections, also known as candidiasis, are caused
by a fungus called Candida albicans. A yeast infection occurs when
there is an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast in the vagina,
or when the immune system is weakened allowing for the yeast to
proliferate. Some symptoms are: vaginal itching, white vaginal discharge,
painful sexual intercourse, and vaginal swelling. Most women will
experience a yeast infection in their lifetime. Sex can aid in the
development of yeast infections, however they most often occur due
to other reasons. For example many yeast infections occur as a result
of pregnancy, poor nutrition, stress, diabetes mellitus, AIDS, antibiotic
use, and the use of birth control pills or immunosuppressive drugs.
To learn more about yeast
infections visit the Family
to Avoid STIs:
The following are suggestions
to help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections.
If you are in a consensual
situation where you want to use protection, but can not, you may
want to rethink why and how you got into that situation. For example,
if you are with a partner who refuses to use protection at your
request, you may want to look at the type of relationship you
Be sure to get your
first pap smear about three years after the onset of sexual activity,
or at the age of 21. After your first pap smear, you should receive
one every year, unless advised differently by the health care
practitioner. Visit the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology
(ACOG) Web site for the most
recent statement (July 31st 2003) on Cervical
Use condoms, condoms
cut to form a rectangle, and latex gloves when you have sex. Saran
wrap and dental dams are often suggested as safe-sex barrier methods,
but there have been no studies proving they are effective. Also,
it is possible that some saran wraps are porous to the HIV virus.
- If you share
toys like vibrators and dildos, cover them with condoms. STIs
can be spread from woman to woman through the use of sex toys.
- Wash sex toys, the point is to keep them clean.
- Keep bodily fluids from entering each others bodies. STIs can
be transmitted through the vagina, anus, mouth, or any open cuts
- Recognize that condoms are not foolproof. They can break and
may not be 100% effective in preventing the spread of STIs by
Get checked for STIs.
Ask your sexual partner
if she/he has any STIs and about her/his sexual history.
Tell your sexual
partner if you have any STIs and about your sexual history.
Know that drugs and
alcohol can cause you make unsafe choices. Drug and alcohol use
can blur decisions, and put you at risk of having unprotected
sex, or having unwanted sex with people.
If you use lubricants
with condoms make sure they are water-based. Oil-based lubricants
can cause condoms to break.
Be aware that having
sex with an infected woman while she is menstruating is an easy
way to contract many STIs.
Unprotected sex with
an opposite sex partner can lead to pregnancy. There is emergency
contraception available if desired. Up to 120 hours after
intercourse, a woman can take pills that makes it unlikely she
will become pregnant that cycle. However the pills work best if
use within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. Some pharmacists
can dispense them without a doctors prescription. The two on the
market are: Prevent and Plan B.
Lesbian Safer Sex/STIs
Academy of Dermatology
for Disease Control and Prevention
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Francisco Sex Information