The workshop "Safer Sex for Bisexual & Lesbian Women", was creative, fun, and sexy. It is refreshing to see young lesbians coming forth to ensure that such workshops are included in the women's conferences programs. "Kudos!" to Melissa Bernstein who enthusiastically facilitated the group participation complete with roll plays, photos, videos, and toys.
The group was well attended. Among us were several self-identified HIV+ lesbians, some who got HIV through woman to woman oral sex. The session was appropriately focused on ways of making safer sex more appealing. We only had an hour, so many issues could not be addressed.
The biologic risk of female-to-female transmission is not known. Since you can get HIV from cunnilingus, what exactly is the mode of transmission? We don't know!
Can an infected woman transmit to her (-) partner by going down on her? If HIV infected salvia gets in the vaginal mucosa, is it absorbed the same way as semen? If you can't transmit the virus through kissing and reports say that there is a protective agent in salvia, is it impossible to transmit the virus through lingual penetration? Does there have to be an open cut in the mouth of the positive woman giving oral sex and the vagina of the woman receiving it?
What about the other way around? When a negative woman goes down on a positive partner, are the vaginal fluids with virus in them being absorbed through the mucosa of the mouth? Is it only blood that presents danger of transmission in this case? If the negative partner tries to avoid vaginal secretions by only licking the clitoris, is this safer? What about non-oxinol -9, would this prevent infection if applied to the areas being licked?
At a medical update presentation by a local infectious disease doctor in a discussion about transmission during gay sex, the conversation got so detailed that the presenter explained that if wet infected semen was on the bed and the negative partner had a broken pimple on his butt and sat right on the spot where the semen was, that there was a remote possibility that viral transmission could occur, but the chances of this happening are far fetched. If we know such details about infected semen, why don't we know the same details about vaginal fluids and lesbian sex practices?
It's not right that we don't know what safer sex is for us. It's not fair that our lovers are at risk because nobody wants to listen to us or to look at us because we are lesbians!
I asked a young infected lesbian about what kind of protection she uses for oral sex and she said that she does not have oral sex. She doesn't give it or receive it. She hates dental dams and glide dams and plastic wrap as most of us do. She only knows that lesbians do get HIV from oral sex so she just prefers not to put her partners at risk. This is a classic example of the need for details.
Why Don't We Know Details?
Because it has never been scientifically studied. From the beginning of AIDS and still, the government arbitrarily decided that lesbians were in a no risk to low risk group. The "low risk" category is not based on scientific fact. We know that it's not who you are, it's what you do that puts you at risk. An official from The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention once made the remark: "Why should we study woman to woman transmission? Do lesbians have sex?" That's our government's response to lesbians, that's how we are being treated in this epidemic. The "lowest risk" category was defined by the assumptions of men as to our sexual realities. These assumptions are false, and we are living proof of that.
It's not right that we don't know what safer sex is for us. It's not fair that our lovers are at risk because nobody wants to listen to us or to look at us because we are lesbians! That shouldn't mean that we are robbed of our lives or of our quality of life or of protecting our partners from HIV. Our government's lies, policies and myths about lesbians and AIDS are killing us!
It's important to note that Human Paploma Virus (HPV) which is common in women with HIV is a much stronger virus and easier than HIV to transmit from woman to woman. If your skin comes in contact with HPV you can get this virus. Latex is a protective barrier for HPV. But, if a gloved hand comes in contact with HPV and you touch your partner in a different place where there is mucosal tissue (anus, vaginal walls, vaginal lips, or mouth) with the same gloved hand, she can get it there too. Then the HPV will become multifocal and more difficult to treat. The debate over micro wavable wrap vs. non micro wavable wrap has been put to rest. "In order for the pores of micro wavable wrap to open it must be heated to 170 degrees. Now, I know we all have very hot sex, but we probably don't get that hot even if it feels like it," explains the facilitator.
Over all the workshop was impressive. Yet, there is still so much to do. It is time for the lesbian community to organize around this issue of HIV and what we still don't know and what we still have to deal with because no one thinks our lives are important.
Other issues that came up in the work shop were that there is a serious lack of availability of lesbian safer sex supplies. Latex gloves are sold in sex shops 2 in a package for $4.00. Many lesbians are still not getting tested for HIV, mainly because they want to believe the myths perpetuated by the government and within our own community. We have to get some pride and self worth around this issue. We must organize! Our lives depend on it.