Whole Lesbian Sex
Safer Sex: Not Just for Straight Girls

Felice Newman,

What I like best about safer sex is having sex with as many people as I like and feeling ever the more virtuous. Orgasms and good health practices for all, I say, with my characteristic generosity.

Some women may see that package of dental dams (pictured) and think, "What a dra-a-ag..." I think about my tongue seducing a sweetly puckered anus. In some circles, the accoutrements of safer sex have become aphrodisiacs. Snap on a latex glove and watch the heads turn.

Of course, many lesbians think that safer sex is like the government's nutritional guidelines – sounds nice in theory, but nobody really eats that way, right? In fact, many lesbian and bisexual women think that STDs are for straight girls.

According to a recent study conducted by Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo (who oversees, the site I recommend for information on lesbians, STDs, and safer sex), many lesbian and bisexual women think that only heterosexual women are likely to become infected with an STD. Thus they don't employ basic practices such as washing their hands, using latex or other barriers, or cleaning sex toys to prevent infections spread through the exchange of vaginal fluid. (FYI: You can transmit most STDs through exchange of vaginal fluid.)

A number of participants also said they don't talk to friends or new acquaintances about sex, much less STDs. They also don't tell their physicians about their sexual practices. So let's add that up: Your dyke friends think only straight girls get STDs, and you don't ever talk to each other about sex, reinforcing the assumption that none of you has ever been exposed to herpes, HPV, trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or even bacterial vaginosis. Then you hook up. That's a situation ripe for bacterial and viral infections, not to mention shame and distrust.

So along with my most heartfelt encouragement to talk about sex with your friends and partners, here are my basic guidelines for safer sex with women:

If you do nothing else on this list, wash your hands frequently with an antibacterial soap – especially after touching your partner's vulva, anus, or used sex toy and before you touch yourself.

Dress your toys. Use condoms on dildos, butt plugs, and vibrators, and clean your toys thoroughly between uses with an antibacterial soap.

Use gloves for penetration with fingers and hands.

Change gloves when moving from anal to vaginal penetration and when you change partners. Toss the glove before you touch yourself.

Use dental dams or plastic wrap for cunnilingus and rimming. You can also use a cut-up glove or unlubed condom. Put a drop of water-based lube on the genital side of the barrier.

Use water-based lube. Never use oil-based lubricants with latex products. (Oil will break down latex.) Do not use oil-based lube for vaginal penetration. If your lube is giving you yeast or other infections, switch to one that doesn't list glycerin as an ingredient.

If your partner has a vaginal infection, you _both_ should see a gynecologist - and refrain from unprotected sex until the infection is cleared up.

Avoid products with nonoxynol-9. While "noxious-9" has been shown to kill HIV in some laboratory tests, it can be irritating to vaginal and rectal tissue. Some women experience vaginal infections after using nonoxynol-9.

Wear gloves during any activity that may bring you in contact with a partner's blood, such as piercing, cutting, or shaving. That includes penetration with fingers or a hand during menstruation.

Do not share needles, whether for IV drug use, play piercing, permanent piercing, or tattooing.

Dispose of gloves and condoms carefully: Turn gloves and condoms inside out as you pull them off to prevent exposure to bodily fluids.

If you have sex with men, use condoms for fellatio (or avoid ejaculation in the mouth) and for vaginal or anal penetration.

Felice Newman is a founding publisher of Cleis Press and the author of The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us. She can be reached at Visit her at

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