Ask A Lesbian: 10

Originally posted on Thought Catalog November 29, 2012

How does “safe sex” work in the lesbian world? I’d assume that if you wash your hands and keep a clean mouth, you’re cool, right?

Okay. I can understand where you’re coming from here, because if you don’t understand it, it can be confusing. Let me help you by sharing my personal experience!

Step One: Get Checked Out, No, Not Like That, But For Real.It’s not only for sexual health reasons, but for your own physical health as well. Here’s my personal story and reasons that I think are important for seeing an OB-GYN, even when it seems scary.

True story number one: When I was with my fiancé, I was getting killer urinary tract infections (UTIs). I went to see my gyno about it and received somewhere around a 20-minute lecture on why I was too young to be having sex, and how dare I have it without being married – the horror of what people would think of a ‘used girl’ such as myself! I wish I could go back in time and report the man, only after giving him a serious piece of my mind. Alas, I did not and am now here to tell the tale. I made sure to not let that deter me from seeing other doctors, either. Physical and sexual health should not be made unimportant by one doctor’s judgment.

Heteronormativity is a big issue for me when it comes to seeing the OB-GYN. True story number two: When I went to my first OB-GYN party upon moving to Denver, I did basic research: I searched “lgbtq friendly ob-gyn” and I found the doctor closest to my house. I had an appointment all set up, and then in true Alison fashion, I showed up at the wrong building that also happened to be an OB-GYN. It was snowy, and many appointments had been cancelled, so even though I didn’t have an appointment, their specialist saw me. He was incredibly aware of LGBTQ sexual issues, and upon my examination, he told me that it was probably good that I had switched solely to women, because reparative tissues had formed from where my insides were problematic beforehand. Score one point for lesbian sex!

Please keep in mind that many of us (as in 77%) that identify as lesbians have had sex with men, and that sex had a high percentage of being unprotected, as lots of sex does. Getting checked out is step one in safe sex!

Step Two: Education Before Fornication, It’s A Thing. I really can’t stress enough that being knowledgeable about your partner, your partner’s sexual history, and how STIs really work is so important. This can change your life, either positively or negatively, so get on it. Other than communicating with your partner about their sexual wants, needs, styles, other fun stuff, et cetera, you need to make sure to talk to them about their sexual history. This includes, but is not limited to: what do you consider a sexual partner? How many sexual partners have you had? Did you use protection with those partners? Have you been tested, and if so, for what? Asking these questions will not only help you in understanding what you are and aren’t comfortable with in a partner sexually, but you two will have been open and honest (hopefully!) about a subject that can sometimes be awkward to breach.

Next up, we have STIs. There are 27 STIs that still exist today, and four different types: bacterial (Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are ones you may know well), ectoparasitic (public lice), protozoal (microorganisms), and viral (the hepatitis family, HPV, and HIV are here). Many people see STIs as two categories – a sickness a pill can get rid of, or something super deadly that will never happen to them. Here’s the thing: that is ignorant. It’s so important to know that so many STIs are transmittable from skin-to-skin and oral/saliva contact. That’s right, folks. This means that contrary to what R. Kelly has told us, I do see something wrong with a little bump and grind. If you’re unaware of not only what your partner’s sexual history is, but the STIs that exist, you are kind of in for a world of hurt. Do basic research: with the type of sexual experience you are interested in having, what STIs can be contracted? What do you need to do to keep yourself protected? Answering these basics will help you in the future, I promise.

After you’ve done said research, you should know what kind of protection you’re looking for. If you are feeling comfortable, safe, and trusting in your monogamous partner, then you two can decide together what the next step is. I feel very blessed in knowing that sex with my partners from here out will not end in a baby stealing all the Brussels sprouts and spaghetti squash I consume, and I’m also glad that my partner has been open and honest with me about her sexual history. It makes me much more comfortable in bed (and wherever else we decide to go). If you’re not monogamous, not partnered exclusively, or you just feel better about protection, then do even more research! Take yourself back to 8th grade health class, and decide what you’d like. Condoms aren’t only for penises, y’all. Sex toys are pricey, and even if your partner swears that they’ve cleaned it to the high heavens, that might not be enough for you. Dental dams might seem a little old-school, but if used correctly, they’re keeping you wicked safe. Gloves, too – not winter mittens, but latex gloves. Or non-latex, if you’re all skin-sensitive. Seriously. These basics might make you seem like “Hi, I’m here to fuck, pardon me while I snap these sexy blue things over my hands and grab my strawberry-flavored rectangle for your va-jay,” but if you’re leaving STI-free and it feels good, who’s here to judge?

Overall, the theme of safe sex is communication (because when is that not my overarching thought?). Communicate with your doctor. Communicate with your partner. Communicate with knowledgeable sources. It’s going to end well for you, I promise.

I am studying to become an elementary school teacher. I want to send a strong message of equality to my students without any bible-clenching parents yanking their kids out of my class. Have you ever discussed LGBTQ equality with kids? Do you have any suggestions for a future teacher? There’s no Dr. Seuss book called “Sue married Cindy-Lou and you can too.” Help!

Congratulations! I’m excited for your future in teaching. You sound neat.

True story number three: I work at an LGBTQ-loving church in Boulder, Colorado. Yes, Boulder. The land many imagine as happy hippies that just love everyone. Funny story – that’s not true. I was sitting at a church picnic with my girlfriend and a lesbian friend of ours. We were surrounded by adults and kids alike, just chatting about life. She jokingly said “I am just done with women. Seriously,” and then a small child next to her said “Ew. What?” This is coming from a church that supposedly teaches tolerance. Thinking big picture, this child is probably going to a school that teaches heteronormativity. I then realized that even though we’re preaching LGBTQ equality in service, we’re not teaching it in Sunday school, and there’s no literature on our bookshelves that the kids can read.

Legally, you may be up for a challenge. When you choose your schools to apply to, if LGBTQ equality is truly an issue that you want to have in your classroom, you’d better make sure your school is okay with that. Ask in your interview what your school’s policy is. Ask what the school would think about you reading books during story time about LGBTQ families. Make sure that if it comes down to brass tacks, they’re going to have your back. This means if a parent decides to sue you or the school, they’re going to be ready to defend your way of education. It may seem extreme, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Sex education in schools has been newly defined, stating that children should be able to define the term “sexual orientation” by 5th grade. It’s been reworked to address bullying issues that surround children of LGBTQ families and those who identify in that category. Again, this is something to discuss with your school upon applying. Just because these are national guidelines definitely doesn’t mean that they’re being followed.

If your school follows your moral guidelines that you’ve set up, you are past your biggest hurdle. Next, do some research on books that talk about LGBTQ families, and prepare for question time after reading. Remember that elementary-aged children may be completely ignorant to what “gay” is, so you’ve got a great opportunity in your hands to educate with love. Explaining that just as some families have one mommy and one daddy, there are families that can have just a mommy, just a daddy, a grandma/ grandpa/ brother/ sister/ aunt/ uncle/ foster parent, and then there are families that have two mommies or two daddies. There are so many different types of families, and all of them are okay! Be prepared to have kids who have a negative reaction, and let them know its okay to talk about their feelings. If they grow up in a house where “gay” is used in a derogatory way, it will take some getting used to for them to understand that it isn’t a bad thing. Follow it through for a year’s worth of curriculum, and maybe open yourself up to other teachers for conversation – they might want to do the same, too!

As an ally, you need to prepare yourself for the worst. I hate that I even have to offer that as advice, but it’s better to arm yourself with what you’ll need and never have to use it than to not see it coming at all. Guardians could get upset and pull their child from your classroom. Your school could do a 180° and decide they’re not backing your decisions anymore. You could be shut out by your co-workers. You could have a lawsuit on your hands. Be ready for that, and stick to your convictions. Hopefully none of those things happen, but if they do, have steps ready for what you’ll want to do in each situation. Best of luck, and thanks for being on the side of equality!

*For more information on education, check out the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network

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