November 23, 2010

Let's Talk About Sex...Lesbian Sex

I’ve had this idea for awhile now. I’m currently trying to formulate it in the best way and see what other people think.

Almost everyone who has been through some form of sex education knows how to put a condom on a dildo. Hardly anyone knows how to use a dental dam. I can understand why dental dam demonstrations might not happen in sex education. Putting a condom on a dildo can be fun. Putting a dental dam on a plastic vagina seems much more intimate. And weird. Here’s the deal: for men who have sex with men, they’ve been taught (albeit in a heteronormative way) how to protect themselves. For women who have sex with women, the waters are murkier.

LGBT students often don’t get inclusive sexual health education in highs school or from parents. In college you’re on your own. Fortunately, people of our generation can use the internet to find sexual health information. I use the internet to find the information I need- whether it’s a Youtube video demonstrating how to use a dental dam or charts that show the risk levels of various sexual activities. I expose myself to a menagerie of information partly out of curiosity and partly because I need to answer questions when I’m counseling. I don’t see the problem as lack of access to information.

I know what it’s like to be a queer women struggling with if and how to have safe sex. I know what it’s like to feel nervous asking a partner to use protection with me, and the frustration felt when a partner wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was. Dental dams aren’t weird and awkward, and haven’t impeded my ability to get someone off. (Maybe I’m just that good.) While LGBT women and men have many reasons to collaborate, we might be more different than similar when it comes to sexual health. I’m not qualified to tackle sexual health from an LGBT men’s perspective. I know which acts or more high risk than others, but people are already aware of that. I’ve yet to encounter an LGBT man at Duke who didn’t find safe sex perfectly obvious (in theory at least.)

How do women have safe sex with other women? By using a dental dam during oral sex or rimming. You could also use finger condoms or latex gloves. Valencia by Michelle Tea, a novel I read in high school, described women wearing latex gloves when they had sex, so it’s on my radar. Barring specific medical conditions, I don’t see any need for finger condoms or latex gloves. To be honest, the idea of having unsafe sex freaks me out, especially when I have my public health nerd glasses on. (Those glasses do sometimes come off in the heat of the moment. But yall already know I’m not a sexual health saint.) I have never talked to a queer woman who knew about dental dams or wanted to use them. I have never shared sex toys with a woman. If I did, I would at least know to clean them. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but women can transmit STDs to each other. Otherwise this discussion would be moot.

I want to hear from yall. What (if anything) do you use for protection? What are your reasons for using or not using protection? Do you feel uninformed or inexperienced? Do you consider lesbian sex safe, or safe enough? Do you find dental dams awkward/gross/pointless/potentially lethal?


  1. It's too bad we don't hear more about dental dams in health class, because not only are they key for safe lesbian sex but also for straight sex that emphasizes a woman's experience. This seems to be one more indicator that sex as our culture imagines it is supposed to cater to a man's orgasm, and if the woman has one, great, but whatever. Grr. To say the least.
    I can tell you that I have zero idea what you're supposed to do with a dental dam...and honestly, condoms are pretty intuitive unless your IQ is so low you're probably not having tons of sex because you're still struggling with passing the second grade. Some of the time we spend practicing putting condoms on would have been much better used learning about something that would be useful for every woman, gay, straight or anywhere in the vast space between, to know.

  2. I love this. Also, a perfect break for the paper I'm currently writing.

    I've only ever had one partner who has been enthusiastic as I have about having safe safe (and here I mean, using protection, not just "being careful"), and that partner was a male. I can't tell you how incredibly assuring it is to have someone on the same page.

    I think lesbian sex (depending on what kind since there are so many ways to do it) can be much safer physically, but it certainly has the potential to be otherwise.

    I really like the idea of dental dams, but unfortunately I haven't talked to anyone who agrees. Hopefully it will become like condoms someday: the merits of safety will shadow whatever temporary benefits there are. We have yet to see what the future holds.

    In terms of education and transmission of information, the student health doctors at this university are embarrassing, upsetting, and under informed. The lack of knowledge that our doctors possess in reference to LGBTQ students and patients is doing more harm than benefits.

    If any of you have gone to student health for sexual health related matters, I would love to hear your stories. I had done my research, and was prepared with very direct questions, and I even picked a doctor who seemed to have more expertise in what I was asking about. He kept running out to ask the nurse my questions, and never was able to give me direct answers. I eventually heard about a great doctor in Chapel Hill...but who has money or time for that? Not me.

    I know we're all susceptible to STIs and STDs, but complete ignorance to LGBTQ sex isn't going to help the queer youth who are having unsafe sex and multiple partners, because we all know, that even one time can leave you with unwanted consequences.

    /rant anti-duke student health

  3. I'm a bisexual female and have had oral-vaginal sex with only a few woman using and not using dental dams. I have never bumped clams with another woman and really really want to. I definitely want to use protection for that so my question is...would a dental dam work well for bumping clams or is there a better, safer method?