By Toni Brannagan
Welcome to the first installment in our Pride series! Each month we’re exploring stories and insights about people who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Why? Because we want to acknowledge the different experiences within our diverse community — and because ~Pride~ shouldn’t be limited to just one month!
In the US, only 24 states + the District of Columbia mandate sex ed, but what actually goes into that curriculum is often left to individual districts.
So even if your school does more than the bare minimum of grabbing a spare teacher to pull up some pics of STIs and throw condoms at you, it’s difficult to know the quality of your education.
Especially for people questioning their sexuality in a heteronormative society, education is essential. One of the women I talked to, Jesse, a 26-year-old video editor, says it might have even helped her come out earlier, “It may not have seemed so taboo in my head later on when I was exploring my own sexuality.”
Ariel, a 27-year-old teaching artist, chalks it up to representation issues, “The more bodies we see, the more sexualities we recognize and the fewer binaries we enforce, the more chances we offer teenagers to explore and understand their identities without shame or stigma.”
Without a standard, it’s easy for certain topics to never be discussed at all. For one, female pleasure. When sex is taught as “well, don’t get pregnant,” pretty much all women suffer, but especially young women who grow up to have (or are already having) sex where pregnancy isn’t a worry.
For example, Dani, a 26-year-old community engagement coordinator, went to a school where sex ed was taught, but it was abstinence focused, and “included condoms as the only contraceptive.”
“No talk about choice, consent, kinds of sex you could have, the kind of people you could have it with, and ultimately a big F.U. to the discussion around personal pleasure and sexuality exploration.”
What does “safe sex” mean between women?
Having unprotected sex with someone who owns a penis is the easiest way to contract an STI or STD, so while gender isn’t tied to your genitalia, the majority of people who identify as lesbians aren’t dealing with dicks. But even though lesbians are statistically at the least risk, why does that seem to translate to they don’t need to be educated about how to be safe or healthy at all?
Ariel elaborates, “Queer people aren't taught ways to protect themselves during sex, or even that queer sex exists, so it can feel isolating and sometimes dangerous.”
More specifically, the urgency of safe sex is not often communicated to lesbian women the way it is to heterosexuals and gay men. This leads to STIs going undiagnosed for long periods of time, and foregoing safe sex practices. Jesse even told me that she hadn’t even heard there were “things” for protection between women until recently. But how are women supposed to do these things if they aren’t given the tools?
If it was as easy as establishing an inclusive, nationwide standard on sexual education, I would probably just write another blog about avoiding sharks on your period or something. But unfortunately, the issues with sex ed in this country are so comprehensive, queer women are rarely the focal point.
A Spark Notes version is never comparable to the real thing, but one of the only tangible things to do is continue sharing accurate information and starting more open conversations.
So, how can lesbians practice safe sex?
1. Don’t skip annual gyno visits
Keeping your V healthy requires check-ups, including annual visits and bi-annual pap smears!
If you’re not comfortable asking questions or detailing your sexcapades to your gyno, you should go find a new one. Seriously. You don’t need to deal with anyone that doesn’t accept the way you live your life.
2. Commit to safe oral sex
Dental dams, unfortunately, are not as accessible as condoms, which seem to be thrown around with reckless abandon. However, next time you pass the free condom bowl at your doctor’s/school/local bar, grab a couple to fashion into makeshift dental dams.
Another option, especially if you’re hooking up with a new partner, is saran wrap – although it’s important to note that it *must* be non-microwavable. Microwavable saran wrap is porous, so it can transmit particles of bacteria and viruses.
Also, if you’re an early-adopter type, you might wanna check out Lorals, which are undies designed for oral sex (what a time to be alive, amirite?).
3. Clean your sex toys
Toys should be cleaned not only in between sexy timez, but also if you are switching between oral, anal, or vaginal penetration, as well as between partners. You don’t want to be mixing bacterias from those areas.
If running to the bathroom sink in medias res sounds annoying, you can use condoms, which are quickly and easily replaceable.
4. Keep your nails trimmed
This might seem more like a courtesy than a safety tip, but scratching the inside of someone’s vulva or vagina is no joke. Even if you don’t *feel* hurt, small cuts and scrapes can become irritated or infected, so treat yo' self to regular manicures – or stock a box of nitrile gloves (less irritating than latex) at your bedside.
5. Communicate with your partner(s)
Keeping open channels of dialogue with the people you’re sleeping with is important for everyone, of every sexual orientation. Making your likes, dislikes, and limits clear (and knowing your partner’s as well!) is the first step to making sure your sexual experiences are safe and enjoyable!
And, of course, you should get tested regularly – and make sure your partner(s) are following suit!
Can you think of any ways your own sex ed classes in school fell short? How could they have been more inclusive? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!