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August 4, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Sexual health and same sex attracted women – what’s the worry?

Women who have sex with women do not have to worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or their sexual and reproductive health – right?

It is a common assumption that women who have sex with women (WSW) don’t need to be concerned about their sexual health. There is a cultural myth that lesbians in particular are not vulnerable to STIs, or are not capable of transmitting infections to other women. However, international research tells us there are reasons to think again.

US and Australian studies have found that women who have sex with women have an unusually high prevalence of Bacterial Vaginosis. BV is the primary cause of vaginal complaints in the US. The Australian study found WSW have higher rates than exclusively heterosexual women. While Bacterial Vaginosis isn’t technically an STI its high prevalence in WSW seems to suggest that it is sexually transmitted between women.

Infection with Bacterial Vaginosis leads to a greater risk of acquiring other STIs. All forms of STIs have been reported in women who have never had sex with men. Female-tofemale transmission of infections, including genital herpes, trichomoniasis, human papillomavirus and HIV, have been recorded. While the transmission of bloodborne viruses such as HIV between women is rare there is increased potential during menstruation. Transmission of common viral STIs such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes simplex virus and treponema pallidum – the causative agent of syphilis – requires only skin–to-skin or mucosa contact, which can easily happen in woman-to-woman sex.

Many STIs have no signs or symptoms. You cannot judge that someone is free of STIs because they look healthy. The basic principle in preventing infection is no exchange of body fluids. Use cut up condoms or dental dams with lube for oral and oral/anal sex. Use condoms and lube with sex toys, don’t share toys without new condoms, and clean them in warm, soapy water.

Remember: in order to transmit an STI someone first has to have one. You can get tested for STIs at your local GP, Family Planning, or free from your nearest Sexual Health Clinic.

You can get condoms on prescription from your primary care provider or Family Planning for $3.00, plus any appointment costs. If you’ve wondered how to get hold of latex dams and gloves you’ll be able to purchase them via the Family Planning web shop soon.

WSW, including women who have never had sex with men, are not immune from developing cervical cancer and it’s important to have regular cervical smears.

Family Planning’s resource ‘Keeping It Safe’ is available from the Family Planning resource unit. It contains practical tips on how to reduce risks, and how to maintain your sexual, reproductive and mental health. See
www.fpanz.org.nz or send a stamped addressed A4 envelope to the Family Planning Resource Unit, P.O. Box 11 515 Wellington.

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Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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