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Lesbians and AIDS

May 15, 1996

Just how safe is sex between lesbians? Can AIDS be easily passed this way? I'm not talking about lesbians who engage in *other* high-risk activity, but just the act itself - is it considered safer sex? I have heard many conflicting reports.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

When we talk about safer sex, AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's), there's a group of people who always seem to be left out of the conversation....Lesbians and Bisexual Women. Too many times I've heard, "Lesbians don't get HIV", and "Lesbians don't get STD's". To the contrary....Lesbians can and do get HIV. Lesbians can and do get other Sexually Transmitted Diseases during female/female sex; for example, Lesbian and Bisexual women can get infected with Genital Warts, which is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They can also get Herpes, Syphilis, Chlamydia, and Gonorrhea. Remember that safer sex doesn't just pertain to HIV, it pertains to ALL Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). This is an important point that is often overlooked. I'm starting to run into more Lesbians and Bisexual women who are infected with HIV. One of their primary complaints is the lack of safer sex information specifically for Lesbians. Another is the lack of a support system for Lesbians with the virus. Many are angry that nobody took the time to explain to them that they were indeed at risk for these diseases. In regard to protection for oral sex on a woman, time and time again you read about using "dental dams". A dental dam is a 6x6 inch piece of latex that you put over the vagina before going down on a woman. There's 2 problems with dental dams. First is the awful taste of latex. In a previous article, I wrote about the problems of latex condoms for oral sex ("Latex Condoms For Oral Sex? You Gotta Be Kidding!"). Well, latex dental dams taste just as bad. Secondly, just where can one readily obtain dental dams anyway..........well? The fact is, you can't just go to the local drug store or the local supermarket and buy dental dams. They're just not available. So what do you do? Some people have suggested taking an unlubricated latex condom, splitting it open with scissors, and using that. Again, you have to deal with the problem of the awful taste of latex. A much better idea is to use saran wrap or plastic wrap and putting that over the vagina to act as a barrier against infection. Plastic wrap is readily available at just about any supermarket, is relatively inexpensive, and not embarassing to buy. In addition, plastic wrap doesn't have any bad taste, and you can see through them. And these days, they even come in "designer colors"! By the way, for those of you who engage in oral-anal sex (rimming), you can also use saran/plastic wrap to protect you against various viral and parasitic infections. The next time you go to the supermarket, after reading this article, you just won't look at saran wrap the same way again! Several times I've been asked how many HIV positive Lesbians there are. Truth is, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) doesn't keep that type of statistic. Nobody has ever taken the time to look. I've heard health professionals say that HIV isn't a problem in Lesbians since there's no statistic on how many Lesbians are actually infected. The truth is, if you don't ask the questions, you're not going to find the answers. In my day to day dealings with folks with HIV, I'm starting to find more and more Lesbians and Bisexual women with HIV and other STD's. The fact is, the problem is real and does's just never discussed. For more information on safer sex for both women and men, call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide). Remember, Work Hard, Play Hard, Play Safe!

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