Two questions asked similar things, plus I recently had a conversation with a student about it, so it might be time to write a post about it.
I think I’ve only ever met 1 lesbian who claims to regularly use protection with women. What’s your view on safe sex in lesbian relationships?
How do lesbians protect themselves against STIs when they are dry humping or scissoring?
Well it’s a big deal, and it gets really political. The lesbian community has protested that they’ve been neglected in public health interventions around, for example HIV. And I want to be explicit that it definitely is possible to transmit HIV during genital-to-genital contact between women. But it’s not easy. It’s also possible to transmit HIV during cunnilingus – but it’s really not easy.
STIs are transmitted via contact with the fluids and genital skin of a person who is infected. Therefore:
The first and best way not to contract an STI is for you and your partner to be tested. If there is no infection and the two of you are only being sexual with each other, no need to use pro. Super.
If one of you has an infection, or if you’re not in a monogamous relationship, you need to decide what degree of risk you’re comfortable with. Your next choices about protection are based on the trade-offs of good things and not so good things.
The technical part of your range of options has to do with preventing contact with infected or potentially-infected fluids and skin. The emotional part of your range of options has to do with your comfort level with talking about and using protection.
The skin-to-skin infections are probably the greatest risk with something like scissoring, where the genitals are in direct contact. The protection solution? Saran wrap. Really. Not the microwavable kind, just the regular kind. It’s non-porous, you can pull big sheets that cover everything you need to cover, plus it’s totally clear so you can see through it and it has no taste (unlike latex) so it’s great for oral as well.
Now, many of you may now be thinking, “But look, I’ll never really do that. It’s embarrassing and awkward and I’m just not going to pull a roll of Saran wrap out from under my bed.”
And that’s fine. Just know that if you engage in that behavior without a barrier when one of you might be infected, there’s a risk of infection. Sometimes people are more comfortable with the risk of infection than they are with the embarrassment of introducing a barrier. That’s totally up to you. (Must write post about human perceptions of risk.)
[EDIT: I wrote about about human perceptions of risk.]
If you’d like to reduce risk without using a barrier, then behavioral methods are your go-to strategy. Just avoid stuff like scissoring and humping, so there’s not direct contact with her genital skin and fluids to your genital skin and fluids. You don’t even necessarily have to explain what you don’t want to do or why; you just have to do the stuff you feel safe with and not do the stuff you don’t feel safe with.
Behavior ideas: Manual sex is quite low risk (as long as you keep your juicy hands off YOUR pooter) and so it’s a great option if you don’t know your partner’s history or monogamy or if one of you is infected. Mutual masturbation -watching each other as you simultaneously masturbate – is quite low-risk and can be very, very sexy. Oral sex has somewhat higher risk, since the various bacterial infections can be transmitted orally (and you do NOT want Gonorrhea of the mouth!), but it’s pretty dark low-risk for herpes and especially for HPV.
And of course there’s the option of, like, not having sex with someone you don’t feel comfortable enough with to talk about medical and sexual histories, protection choices, and behavioral preferences. But hell, this is the real world, right? You want to have sex and you also have a lot of cultural crap in your head about it, so what’s a girl to do?
Final note: my understanding of the term “dry humping” is that it’s humping with your clothes on… is that wrong? Without clothes, it’s just good old humping, nice and wet. Clothes on, no need for extra pro. Clothes off, see above.