What Safe Sex Looks Like To 6 Queer Women & Nonbinary Femmes

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Safe sex is often discussed in the context of pregnancy and how to avoid it — but because your classic sex education so often privileges opposite-gender relationships, for queer people, safe sex is often learned as people are beginning to explore what sex, period, looks like for them. Six queer women and non-binary femmes tell Bustle that there's a lot more to safe sex than pregnancy, or even the prevention of STIs.

"While pregnancy is not always a risk in LGBT+ relationships, it is always important to protect yourself and your partner(s) by being tested regularly and by using barrier methods (condoms, dental dams, etc.)," LGBTQ+ expert Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, a licensed social worker who specializes in sexual and gender minorities, tells Bustle. "This prevents interactions with bodily fluids and skin infections that can become health hazards."

While there's a widespread myth that people with vaginas can't get STIs from one another at all, it's not correct; a study in 2011 found that women who have sex with women are no less at risk of STIs like chlamydia than women who have sex with men. Some queer women report that when it comes to sexual health, they have to be their own advocates for testing and treatment.

Here are six people's journeys towards understanding sexual health and safe sex as queer people.

Annis, 28

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"It's been a long time since I had casual sex, but when I last got tested, I did ask for tests for everything and was told not to bother with HIV testing because my risk of transmission was so low. I got it anyway.

"I can say that in my (limited) experience, I've only used a dental dam once. I don't know if this is common, but the lack of use of dental dams is certainly a common joke among queer women. With one partner we used condoms for toys, but I think for a combination of ease of cleaning, and for some realism. But I've heard that that is a way of keeping sex safe when you have multiple partners."

Anna, 32

"My advice is much more polyamory-based, to be honest! But I guess the same principles can apply. Definitely no oral pre-testing. No sharing the sex toys. Use a good cleaner and put them into the dishwasher. Prepare to have STI clinics go 'WHAT?'"

"Personally I just don't sleep with anyone beyond hands, unless they're tested. If I was going to — God knows. Would I actually use a dental dam? Honestly it seems unlikely, much as I'd love to be sensible. I know people who use gloves for casual things, which I think is so clever and grown-up."

Beki, 30

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"Safe sex includes condoms and dental dams, and talking about what safe sex precautions we need to use before sex, when our last check ups were, and the behaviors that we like and find psychologically safe.

"Oh, and at the start of a monogamous long-term relationship always insist we test together. You can get those little postal kits now. Doing one together is very romantic."

Caitlin, 31

"I’m a non-binary femme. Safer sex practices include regular testing for STIs at least annually if you have the same partner(s) or more frequently if you have multiple partners. I recommend testing every three to six months if you have ongoing multiple partners.

"Before sex, you should make sure there are no signs of STIs on your partner's genitals or mouth (cold sores, anything that looks out of the ordinary) and ask them how recently they've been tested. You are perfectly within your rights to ask to see the results from the doctor if you want to! Talking about STIs isn't gross, and testing positive doesn't make you dirty — most STIs are curable and all are treatable to manage symptoms.

"Lastly, if you're engaging in any kink or BDSM activity including breath play, choking, pain, bondage, etc., you should have a safe word in place to indicate if you feel uncomfortable or your partner goes over your pain threshold."

Alice, 45

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"When using a sex toys and more particularly a double dildo, I will clean it before use, but also if I share or exchange the same dildo with my partner. We do not put condoms on it.

"When we use a harness we wash it after use. They are some new harness that you can put in the washing machine now. With leather it was complicated to wash and bacterias can stay in the leather.

"We store our dildos in a box to keep them clean. Our only practice for safer sex is to always wash our hands before sex. Regarding dental dam we don’t use it at all. It takes away all the pleasure for both partners."

Kate, 39

"To me safe sex is not just about STI prevention — although it is definitely that! Condoms, gloves, lube, and candid conversations about blood test results for me and my partner as well as our other partners are all important!

"Safe sex, for me, is also about being in a healthy emotional or psychological space. I am past the time when I want sex without a level of emotional connection and intimacy — which also has a wide spectrum. There are lots of varieties of juicy connection. Consequently, for me, safe sex starts before barriers for fluids are talked about, because I desire and require some level of emotional connection. If that's not found, then it's not safe for me, and I might end my evening with some solo personal pleasure at home."

Safe sex is a large spectrum and can involve many different behaviors. The bottom line is that queer women can be their own advocates for sexual health and safety — even when discussions are tricky.