Women who have sex with women generally have the same sexual health and reproductive health needs as any other woman. However, there are some specific bits of information that may be helpful for you if you are sexually active.
Safe Sex... What is Risky?
If you have oral sex when you or your partner have cold sores, cuts on the skin around the vagina, anus or mouth, or are having your period then you might be at risk of viral infections such as herpes or hepatitis.
How can I reduce the risk?
You can use gloves, dams or condoms to prevent infection passing from one to the other.
A dam is a square of latex, often flavoured, which is placed over your skin for performing oral sex. Alternatively you can cut open a condom and place it over your skin. You can get condoms and dams from us at any of our clinics.
Think about keeping your nails short and taking off jewellery before sex. Be aware that cold sores or bleeding gums can pass on infections.
Keep sex toys clean. Sharing them is risky when they come into contact with vaginal fluids, faeces or blood. To reduce these risks you can put a condom over the toy, making sure a new condom is used each time the toy is used by you or anyone else.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Some infections are just as common for women who have sex with women as for women who have sex with men.
Genital warts are painless bumps on the vulva, in the vagina, on the cervix or around the anus. They are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV can be passed through contact with the wart, for example by touching, rubbing or sharing sex toys. Genital warts are extremely common and can be treated.
Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) gives a frothy, itchy vaginal discharge and is passed on by contact with the vagina only, for example by touching or sharing sex toys: it is easily treatable.
Herpes can cause painful sores on the vulva, vagina or anus, or around the mouth (cold sores). Some people have the herpes virus, are infectious, but don't have any symptoms. It can be passed on through contact with a sore, for example by kissing, touching, oral sex or sharing sex toys.
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are not as common in women who have sex with women as they are in women who have sex with men. In theory they can be passed on through sharing sex toys or skin to skin contact. Often there are no symptoms.
Syphilis is rare, but when someone has the infection it can be passed on through close skin contact very easily. It can cause painless ulcers and a variety of other symptoms, especially if it is not treated.
HIV - the risks of sexually transmitting HIV between women are very low. If a person has HIV, then the virus will be present in their blood, breast milk and vaginal fluid. The risk of HIV being passed on through oral sex is extremely low - the risk is higher if a woman has cuts or sores in her mouth, or if her partner receiving oral sex has sores on her genitals or is having her period.
Other common vaginal infections
Most women will get thrush (candida) at some time in their lives. It seems to be more common in women who have oral sex, but it is not known why. Simple over the counter treatments are also readily available, but it's important to seek specialist advice if you have recurrent symptoms, as vaginal and genital skin irritation can be caused by other conditions.
Bacterial vaginosis/BV is an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria that can cause a smelly vaginal discharge. It is more common in women who have prolonged or irregular bleeding, and women who over wash their vaginas or douche. It's sometimes made worse by perfumed soaps and bath products, which can affect the acid/alkali balance in the vagina.
Cervical Screening (Smears) - do I need one?
The virus which causes cervical cancer (HPV or human papillomavirus) can be transmitted between women. As with other sexually transmitted infections, HPV is passed on through skin-to -skin contact and some body fluids. So oral sex, transferring vaginal fluids on hands and fingers, or sharing sex toys, can all be ways of being exposed to HPV. For this reason, women who have sex with women are advisable to be screened.
Many women who have sex with women choose to have children. There are many practical issues that you might need information and support with. The Equality Network website can offer some helpful information.