For better or for worse, I've always been a bit of an early bloomer. Like many queers, I was raised Catholic and was taught to be staunchly homophobic as a kid. When Proposition 8 passed in California in 2008, I couldn't have been happier. But I was probably just secretly terrified. Shortly after, I came to the stunning realization that I was one of those queers that not even the supposed liberal haven of California could protect, and I knew even then what kind of life I was in for.
I started dating my best friend when I was 13, and we dated throughout high school and briefly during college. Because I came out, the main way I connected with other queer people was via the internet. And according to the internet, queer girls were soft, pretty, and gentle. The only desires two women could experience together was to braid each other's hair, stroll through a field of flowers, wear pretty dresses, or adopt a cat.
I definitely wanted some of those things, but there was a yawning void when it came to discussing sexual desire. And not just sex in a clinical, technical sense (though that hardly existed either). Part of the reason I dated the same girl all throughout high school was because I was terrified that we were the only two queer women in the world who experienced desire. I was terrified my desire would be too much for any other woman to handle, like I was tainted somehow for wanting things that no one discussed.
It certainly didn't help that my own girlfriend seemed to hate acknowledging that we had sex. Not even passing mentions to other people were OK in her book, even if it was as innocuous and vague as an anecdote about her dad almost walking in on us. Meanwhile, all of our friends were open books. Obviously, having your own boundaries and comfort levels around sharing about sex is fine, but having to bury it deep down all the time as though it was some kind of dirty secret didn't exactly feel great.
Thankfully, this changed when I got to college, and not just because I moved across the country and left my high-school girlfriend. Though the culture by and large still skirted around the "issue" of sex, I met queer women who weren't afraid of talking about how they found women not just cute, but hot. They didn't just want to hold hands, they wanted to fuck, no U-Hauls involved. It was refreshing and radical to realize that talking about sex wasn't weird or bad, and that no one was truly judging me; if they were, then it didn't matter to me anymore. Most revelatory of all, though, was the realization that I wasn't alone after all.
But even as a college student, I've facilitated safer sex education events where fellow students have become flustered and shocked at the mere mention of female masturbation or ejaculation or sex toys. Some people asserted that they don't know (or need to know) how to use condoms because they're lesbians. Transphobic assumptions aside, hearing such statements is always discomfiting, especially since they reflect the wider attitudes and beliefs of women who have sex with women (WSW). In a 2015 survey conducted by Autostraddle, nearly 60% of respondents reported never using protection during sex. It's a common misconception that lesbian sex is inherently safe; on the contrary, some studies actually suggest that WSW are at greater risk for some STIs, such as chlamydia.
I am of the firm belief that the most effective safer sex tool that WSW have at our disposal is just talking openly and honestly about the sex we have. Obviously, measures like using dental dams, latex gloves, and, yes, condoms are important, as is getting tested. But step one is destigmatizing the need for those things, and also the need for sex itself. And part of that has got to be putting an end to the whole "useless lesbian" thing (which, ironically enough, actually originates from a Tumblr post about a girl staring at another girl's ass instead of helping her off the ground; hence the uselessness).
I do understand and sympathize with the plight of the useless lesbian -- being a woman who exclusively likes women is hard in a patriarchal, heteronormative society. It can be difficult to make moves when women's desire is societally repressed and queer desire is often interpreted as inherently predatory. Queer women who come out later in life often have to learn to navigate an entirely different set of social cues. Seeing oneself as an object of desire can also be difficult if you're operating from "traditional" beauty standards as well. That one is a real kicker, and one I'm still trying to work through myself. But the solution to all of this shouldn't be to further internalize homophobia and refuse to talk about sex out of embarrassment -- it's not just lame, it's actively harmful to our health.
This includes physical health, of course, but also mental health. Self-acceptance is one of the cornerstones of resiliency, an area and framework that health providers and researchers are paying increasing attention to. According to UpToDate, one definition of resiliency includes a "dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity." Some of the characteristics that can positively impact one's individual resiliency are positive self-esteem, self-acceptance, and shamelessness -- the last of which I believe is the most crucial.
As women who don't just love, but also fuck women, it is imperative that we embrace our sexualities in their full, complicated, messy glory. It is true that the medical establishment and our schooling systems fail us when it comes to providing us with accurate and comprehensive sex education, and that this is one of the main reasons why we're so bad at having safer sex. But that means that it's up to us to educate each other about it -- or at the very least talk to each other. Our well-being depends on it.