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Sexual health for women who have sex with women

How to have safer sex between women

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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When it comes to sexual health, sexual health for women who have sex with women is often overlooked and many people assume that sex between two women is risk free. Like all sexual activity, it still carries sexual health risks, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How can STIs be transmitted between women?

They can be transmitted through:

  • The sharing of sex toys
  • Skin to skin contact
  • Genital to genital contact
  • Mouth to genital contact
  • Through menstrual (period) blood
  • Through vaginal discharge

Protection from STIs between women

Be aware that although STIs can be transmitted at any time, you are more vulnerable to acquiring one when you are having your period, even more so if you are both having your periods at the same time.

There are a number of ways you can pretect yourself from STIs:

Common STIs in sex between women:

All STIs can be passed on during female to female sexual contact. Some of the most common STIs that affect women who have sex with women:


Herpes is a virus that causes blisters around the vulva and vagina. Since it is a virus, it never leaves the body and a person may need to take medication regularly to prevent frequent outbreaks. Generally however, the outbreaks lessen over time. It is contagious, even when a person is not having an outbreak.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

This infection is more common in lesbian and bisexual women and depends on the type of sex they are having. If you go through a long period of time without having sex that involves penetration and then go through a period of time when you do have sex with penetration, this can sometimes lead to BV. When a woman has BV, it means that there is too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria in the vagina. The main symptom of BV is a bad vaginal odour. It can be treated with antibiotics.


This is an STI that is caused by a small parasite. It can be spread by sexual contact and contact with damp towels. It can cause genital soreness and itching, as well as urinary tract symptoms. It can be treated with antibiotics.


This STI is caused by bacteria. If left untreated, it can cause infertility and gynaecological problems such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Unfortunately, it causes very mild symptoms, while doing serious damage to areas such as the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. So it's important to be tested for it regularly and to practice safer sex. It can be treated with antibiotics.


This is a type of virus that is sexually transmitted and may cause changes in the cervix that may eventually lead to cervical cancer. There are over 150 strains of the HPV virus and not all are related to cervical cancer. However, many types can raise your risk of other cancers. The HPV virus is contagious even if a person doesn’t have any symptoms.

Genital warts

These are warts that develop in the genital region. They are caused by the HPV virus. Treatment is with ointment from your doctor.

Less common STIs in sex between women

STIs that are less common in sex between women, but that still occur, include:


This STI is fairly common, but there is a lower risk of transmission amongst women who have sex exclusively with women. It is caused by bacteria and can cause bladder pain, bleeding between periods and vaginal discharge.


Syphilis is a bacterial STI. When a person is infected with syphilis they will develop a small painless ulcer (usually in their genital region). This will be followed by a rash and perhaps swollen glands. If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious organ and nerve damage. It is very contagious.


This is a virus that can be spread through semen, blood, vaginal fluids and breast milk. However, it is rare for women who only have sex with women. If a women has sex with both men and women then the risk is slightly higher.

Find a list of free STI testing clinics in Ireland here.

Remember: The age of sexual consent in Ireland is 17. If you're over 16, you can consent to medical treatment including any treatment or tests needed.

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Published October 21st, 2014
Last updated July 26th, 2018
Tags sexual health lesbian sex
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