29th November, 20216 min read

How to have safer lesbian sex

Medical reviewer:
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Author:
Libby Williams
Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 17/11/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Overview

If you have lesbian sex, in any form, you can pass on or get many types of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

If you have lesbian sex, here’s what you need to know to have safer sex to help stop you from getting or passing on any STIs.

Tips for how to have safer lesbian sex

All types of sex carry a certain level of risk, including lesbian sex. STIs are spread through bodily fluids like vaginal fluids, semen and blood or from skin-to-skin contact with infected areas during sex. Using protection and practising safer sex can help you avoid getting or passing on STIs. It can also help reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy.

Here are some tips that can help you have safer sex.

Keep your hands clean

Although the risk is fairly low, some STIs can be passed on when hands or fingers are used to touch, rub or stimulate the genitals. This risk is higher if you have any cuts or sores on your hands, fingers, genitals or anus. Washing your hands before and after sex can help prevent the spread of STIs.

Keep sex toys clean

Use a new condom for penetrative sex toys such as vibrators for each partner and also each time you have penetrative sex involving different body openings. Wash reusable sex toys with soap and warm water, avoid using the same toys in different parts of the body and don’t use the same sex toy with different partners without first washing it. Also always check for cracks where germs may cluster.

Vibrator

Use a condom

If you have vaginal or anal sex with a partner who has a penis, use a condom to prevent the spread of STIs and also reduce the risk of pregnancy if you need to. Also use a condom during oral sex to prevent the spread of STIs.

Use a dental dam

If you’re having oral sex with a partner who has a vagina, there’s a risk of passing on or getting STIs such as gonorrhoea, genital herpes and syphilis. This risk increases if you or your partner have cuts or sores in your mouth, on your lips or around your genitals or anus. A dental dam is a small thin square of latex that’s used to help prevent the spread of STIs. It acts as a barrier between the vulva (the outer part of the female genitals), the anus and the mouth.

Dental dams are available from some sexual health clinics, contraception clinics, pharmacies and online. You can also make dental dams yourself by rolling out a condom, cutting off the tip and the ring, and then cutting down the side to create a rectangle.

Use another type of contraception

Use contraception like the pill, a contraceptive patch, an injection or an implant as well as condoms if there is any chance that sex may result in an unplanned pregnancy. This can also be a good backup in case the condom breaks or fails.

Read more about how to have safer sex and prevent STIs.

Symptoms of STIs

STIs can result in a range of symptoms, but sometimes you may not have any at all (asymptomatic). Some signs and symptoms that you should look out for include:

  • unusual discharge from the vagina or anus that’s yellow, green or smelly
  • pain or burning when you pee
  • blisters, sores, spots, lumps, skin growths or a rash around your genitals or anus or in your mouth
  • itching, burning or tingling around your genitals or anus
  • unusual vaginal bleeding between periods, or during or after sex
  • pain during sex
  • pain in your lower abdomen
  • sore and swollen lymph nodes (usually in the groin)
  • a fever
  • a rash on your body, hands or feet

Read more about the symptoms of STIs.

Some of the most common STIs that can be spread through lesbian sex include:

Other sexually transmitted infections

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and thrush are not classed as STIs, but they are still infections that can be triggered by and spread through sex.

If you have BV, you may notice an unusual vaginal discharge that may have a strong fishy smell and be greyish-white, thin and watery. It’s important to get treatment for BV as it reduces your body’s natural defences against infection, increasing your risk of getting an STI such as chlamydia.

Thrush is a common infection caused by a fungus called candida. Common symptoms of thrush include a thick white discharge, itching and irritation around the vagina and soreness and stinging when peeing or having sex.

Both BV and thrush can be passed on during sex from the hands, mouth or genitals of someone who’s infected to the genitals of someone who isn’t.

When to see a doctor

See a doctor as soon as possible if you or your partner have any symptoms of an STI or if you’re worried after having sex without a condom.

Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you have:

  • a sudden change in the colour, odour or amount of vaginal discharge
  • unusual vaginal bleeding
  • discharge from the anus that’s yellow, green or smelly
  • redness, itching, tingling or burning genitals or anus
  • blisters, sores, spots, lumps, skin growths or a rash around your genitals, anus or in your mouth
  • pain during sex
  • pain or burning when peeing
  • pain in your lower abdomen
  • sore and swollen lymph nodes (usually in the groin)
  • a fever
  • a rash on your body, hands or feet

These symptoms could be a sign of an STI or another health problem that needs treatment.

If you have new lower abdomen pain, vaginal bleeding, fever or feel very unwell go to a hospital immediately. It's also important to do a pregnancy test and go to hospital immediately if you have the above symptoms as it could be an ectopic pregnancy.

There are a lot of myths around safe sex and STIs. Speak to your doctor or visit your local sexual health clinic if you have any questions.

Your health questions answered

  • How can I keep my vagina healthy?

    Practising safe sex is an important part of keeping your vagina healthy and reducing your risk of getting an STI. Keeping your genitals clean by washing them every day with plain water can help to maintain the health of the area around your vagina (the vulva). Your vagina is designed to clean itself with the help of normal vaginal discharge – you don’t need to use soaps or cleansers. If you do want to use soap, choose one that’s plain and unperfumed. This is because perfumed soaps, gels, antiseptics, deodorants and wipes can affect the balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation.

Key takeaways

  • no matter what kind of sex you have, it’s important to practice safer sex
  • use a dental dam, keep sex toys clean, wash your hands, use condoms and other methods of contraception, and get tested regularly to avoid STIs
  • common STIs that can be passed on through lesbian sex include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, genital warts, genital herpes, HPV and HIV
  • see a doctor or go to a sexual health clinic if you or a sexual partner have any symptoms of STIs or if you’re worried after having sex without a condom
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