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A sexuality educator’s guide to safe sex for WLW couples

Sexual safety and protection from STIs is equally important for same-sex couples with vaginas as heterosexual couples

Karishma Swarup | Published 11.06.24, 07:55 PM
Being safe during intimacy is an important aspect of any relationship

Being safe during intimacy is an important aspect of any relationship

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Hi Karishma,

I am in a WLW relationship, and my partner and I are both people with vaginas. I know it’s unlikely that either of us can get pregnant, but could you please tell us how else we can maintain sexual safety in our lesbian relationship?

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— Liza

Dear Liza,

First off, Happy Pride! Safer sex is an important topic to think about in all relationships, including lesbian, WLW (i.e. “women-loving-women”) relationships.

I once met a lesbian person who laughed out loud at the prospect of needing condoms — ‘why would I, someone who doesn’t have a penis and only has sex with people with vaginas, ever need a condom?’

Whether you use a condom or not is your personal preference, but hopefully this article will give you a reason to keep a couple on your bedside table as you think about safer sex. WLW folks also can consider ways to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The tips below will be helpful for all folks who have sex with people with vaginas.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be transmitted through many different types of sexual behaviors WLW folks may engage in, through skin-to-skin contact, contact with sexual fluids including vaginal fluids, menstrual blood, and saliva.

Glove-up for the finger play

Before engaging in any hand-to-vagina stimulation, wash your hands and make sure there’s no strong smelling soap residue on them as this can cause yeast infections. Washing your hands will not prevent STI transmission, but it can reduce the risk of bringing random things your hands may have touched to your partner’s genitals — imagine if you just ate spicy food! You can also keep your fingernails trimmed and filed to prevent unwanted cuts and scratches.

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If you’re someone who likes to rock long fingernails, or just want to take the fingering safety to the next level, I would recommend a pair of non-powdered latex gloves. These gloves can help you further reduce skin-to-skin contact, make sure you change gloves between partners! If you’re keeping your nails long, you can wrap a cotton ball around your fingernail before putting the glove on, and your partner won’t even feel it. Some folks also like using “finger cots” but these are a bit harder to find than latex gloves which you can pick up at a pharmacy near you.

Dam up

For oral sex with a vagina or an anus, you can try using a sheet of latex like a “dental dam” to avoid direct fluid exchange or contact. As “dental” as it sounds, these are hard to come by in a non-dental medicine setting in India. Lucky for you, it’s super easy to make one by cutting out any other medical grade latex. A simple way to make a dental dam is to cut out a square from a typical internal or external condom. You could also cut out a latex glove to make one.


Dildos, strap-ons and toys

If you’re using a “strap-on”, dildo, or sex toy, a general rule of play is to avoid sharing the toys between people without washing. In case it is a little awkward to get up mid-sex to go wash your toys, you may want to consider throwing on a condom that you are able to quickly swap out before moving to the other partner(s). The condom can also provide an extra layer of protection, particularly if your toy is made of a porous material like silicone blends.

For washing silicone toys in general, you can use a specially designed toy-cleaning soap, or any mild, fragrance-free soap and warm water. Rinse and dry with a clean towel or paper towel, and store in a place where it is not likely to collect dust. Some toys even come with their own pouch.

Avoid sharing toys between people without washing

Avoid sharing toys between people without washing

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If you’re using a non-mechanised dildo, especially if it is made of glass, metal or high-quality silicone, you can follow the washing process and then dip it in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. When in doubt, email the manufacturer of your product to see if it is okay to do this!

Many folks who use strap-on dildos also use a harness to hold the dildo in place. If you’re using a harness that’s made of cloth or nylon, you should be able to hand-wash it or machine wash it. With a leather harness, or if you’re not sure what your harness is made of, you can wipe it with a wet and/or soapy cloth to clean up.

Lube, lube, lube

As always, a key to safer sex is lots of wetness and lubrication. No matter what type of sex you’re having, if your genitals or anus are involved, lube can always reduce the risk of unwanted internal cuts, tears and bleeding. Cuts and tears may welcome more infections.

Tests worth taking

Lastly, getting tested for STIs proactively can help you go a long way. Most STIs do not show any symptoms at all, so folks do not realise they even have them. Getting tested yearly or between partners can significantly reduce the risk of asymptomatic STIs.

The HPV vaccine and periodic pap-smear are also a good way to keep the risk of HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer, in check. People with vaginas aged 9-45 can get the HPV vaccine through private medical providers in India at the moment.

The HPV vaccine and periodic pap-smear are also a good way to keep the risk of HPV in check

The HPV vaccine and periodic pap-smear are also a good way to keep the risk of HPV in check

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Lastly, if you’re considering having sex with someone who has HIV, you may want to explore PrEP or PEP — two treatments for HIV depending on whether or not you’ve had active exposure to the virus.

Stay safe out there!

A note on the terminology used in this article: This article assumes “lesbian” means people who are assigned female at birth / have vaginas, or WLW means cis women to answer the question received. However, I want to acknowledge that not all folks who identify as “women” or “lesbian” are people with vaginas.

Karishma Swarup is a Kolkata-born and raised sexuality educator, Instagrammer (@talkyounevergot) and works at a global consulting firm. She busts myths about sex, pleasure, intimacy, orgasms, periods, and all things related to sexual health.

If you have a question you would like Karishma to answer, send an email on mykolkata@telegraphindia.com with the subject line ‘Questions for Karishma’ or DM/comment on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Last updated on 11.06.24, 07:56 PM
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