The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog–Ask an Expert: Should Girls Who Have Sex with Other Girls Worry about Sexually Transmitted Infections?


Posted on July 29th, 2015 by Kathryn Macapagal in Ask an Expert, Featured, Sexual Health, Youth Blog. No Comments

In our “Ask an Expert” blog series, researchers from the IMPACT Program answer questions from LGBTQ youth. This month’s expert is Dr. Kathryn Macapagal, Research Assistant Professor with IMPACT.

Kathryn3-webQuestion: I’m a cisgender girl who has sex with other girls. Do I need to worry about sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

Answer: Yes – and they’re quite common [1]! STIs are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, vaginal fluids, menstrual blood, oral sex, and sharing sex toys [1,2]. Unfortunately, a lot of girls who have sex with girls think they’re at low risk because they don’t always have sex with male partners. However, STIs affect all folks regardless of either partner’s gender or sex at birth. Here are some STIs to watch out for!

Bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is very common among women who have sex with women [1,2,3]. Symptoms include itching, painful urination, discomfort during sex, and a thin, whitish or grayish vaginal discharge (fluid) with a fishy smell that can be stronger after sex. BV is treated with antibiotics but can go away on its own. If kids are on your radar, having BV while pregnant can lead to babies who are born early and weigh less than they should.

Trichomoniasis (“trich”). Trich is caused by a parasite [2]. Symptoms include itching and inflammation in the vulvar (vaginal/genital) area, discomfort during sex and urination, and foamy-looking, greenish-yellow or grayish vaginal discharge with a strong smell. Trich can be cured with antibiotics, and like BV can have negative effects on babies if untreated during pregnancy.

Human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is one of the most common STIs and is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact [1,2]. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, which are soft, flesh-colored bumps on your genital or rectal area. Other types of HPV are linked with cervical cancer. Most people don’t know they have HPV because they don’t have visible symptoms, which is why it’s super important to get regular gynecological checkups. HPV can be prevented with vaccines that you can get until you’re 26. Genital warts can be removed with medications (but they often come back).

Genital herpes. Herpes is a virus transmitted by skin-to-skin contact regardless of whether a partner is showing symptoms [1,2]. Symptoms include blisters around the vulva or rectum that burst and turn into painful sores that can take days to weeks to heal if untreated. If you or your partner has a cold sore, avoid oral sex because herpes can be transmitted that way, too. While herpes has no cure, antiviral medications can make symptoms less frequent and less painful.

Other STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV are more common in women who also have sex with male partners. If you were assigned female at birth, but don’t identify as female (e.g., nonbinary and trans* folks), you should still get gynecological checkups even if you don’t think you need them because of these risks. Preventing STIs involves barrier methods like dental dams, using clean sex toys, avoiding sharing sex toys, and getting tested and talking about your STI history with your partner before you start having sex. If you’re worried about your symptoms, see a medical provider – and encourage your partner get checked out, too!

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Medical Information Disclaimer: The IMPACT Program does not intend to provide specific medical advice, but we may provide website visitors with information to better understand their health and risk factors for specific diseases. The IMPACT Program urges you to consult with a qualified health care provider for diagnosis and answers to your personal health questions.

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References:

[1] Marrazzo, J. M., & Gorgos, L. M. (2012). Emerging sexual health issues among women who have sex with women. Current Infectious Disease Reports, 14(2), 204-211.

[2] US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health (2012). Lesbian and bisexual fact sheet. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/lesbian-bisexual-health.html

[3] Koumans, E. H., Sternberg, M., Bruce, C., et al. (2007). The prevalence of bacterial vaginosis in the United States, 2001–2004; associations with symptoms, sexual behaviors, and reproductive health. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 34(11), 864–869.

Cover photo credit: Chris Latting





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