There is a misconception among some women and even some healthcare providers that lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women are at little or no risk for contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office on Women’s Health, there are some STIs that are more easily passed from woman to woman than others, including bacterial vaginosis, Chlamydia, genital herpes (type 1 and type 2), human papillomavirus (HPV), public lice (crabs), and trichomoniasis.¹ Other STIs that are less common, but can also affect LBQ women include gonorrhea, Hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, and Syphilis. Women can pass STIs to each other through skin-to-skin contact, mucosa contact (e.g., mouth to vagina, mouth to anus), vaginal fluids, menstrual blood, and sharing sex toys.
The month of April is STI Awareness Month, which reminds us that it is important for all people, including LBQ women, to practice safer sex and get tested. If you are sexually active in any way, be sure that you know both your STI status and your partner’s status. If either of your statuses are unknown and you are having sex, refrain from sharing sex toys or use a new condom on your toy for each person when sharing. Use a dental dam during oral sex and anilingus (mouth to anus contact) to prevent the passage of saliva as well as bacteria and infection between partners. Dental dams are thin squares of latex rubber or polyurethane that can be used as a protective barrier during sex, and can be found online, in some drug stores, at adult toy shops in Chicago (such as Early to Bed and Tulip Toy Gallery), at Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) , and at many Planned Parenthood health centers. If a dental dam is not handy, a non-lubricated cut open condom or non-microwaveable plastic wrap can also be used.
In addition to practicing safer sex, getting tested is incredibly important not only to protect yourself and your partners from STIs, but also to preserve your health and well-being. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women and transgender men (i.e., people who have a cervix) should begin Pap test screening at age 21 or three years after beginning sexual activity, and should continue to be screened every two to three years, depending on your age, to test for abnormal cervical cells.² These abnormal cervical cells are indicative of HPV and can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated and unmonitored.³ Recent studies have shown that oral HPV (which can lead to cancers of the head and neck) is on the rise, which further emphasizes that getting tested and using protection during oral sex is essential.
Pap tests are available to all women and transgender men at HBHC. If you are over the age of 35, you can schedule an appointment during regular clinic hours at (773) 388-1600. If you are under the age of 35 and you are under- or uninsured, you can receive a free pap test, as well as a clinical breast/chest exam during the Lesbian Community Care Project’s (LCCP) Women’s Health Drop-In Nights. The Drop-In Nights occur on the last Wednesday of every month from 6-8PM (check-in starts at 5PM) at HBHC (4025 N. Sheridan Rd.), and the services are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The next Drop-In Night will be on Wednesday, April 25th.
Free or low-cost confidential rapid HIV testing, confidential STD screenings for Chlamydia and gonorrhea, Syphilis testing and treatment, Hepatitis C screening, and Hepatitis A and B vaccination services are also available at HBHC. The testing hours for HBHC’s walk-in clinic are:
Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday: 1 – 7PM
Friday: 9AM – Noon and 1 – 4PM
2nd and 4th Saturday of each month: 9AM – Noon
EXCEPT DURING May, November and December: 2nd Saturday only: 9AM – Noon
**No appointment is necessary. Clients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis. Payment can be made in cash, credit, debit, or check. Insurance cannot be used for walk-in clinic visits.
Love yourself and love others this April! Practice safer sex and get tested!
To learn more about services available at Howard Brown Health Center, please visit http://www.howardbrown.org or call us at (773) 388-1600.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2009, June 1). Frequently Asked Questions: Lesbian and Bisexual Health. Retrieved from: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/lesbian-bisexual-health.cfm
- National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. (2010, December 21). Fact Sheet: Pap Test. Retrieved from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/Pap-test
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Betsy was born in Chicago and raised in the northern suburbs of the city. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with her B.A. in Philosophy, and went on to pursue her M.A. in Social Work from the University of Chicago. Over the past six years, Betsy has developed and pursued her passion for women’s health, LGBTQ issues, and social justice. In January of 2012, she became the Manager of the Lesbian Community Care Project (LCCP) at Howard Brown Health Center, the largest LGBTQ healthcare organization in the Midwest. Betsy is thrilled to join The L Stop team to write for the Queering Her Health blog. She hopes the blog will: 1) help LBTQ women get access to health information that is focused specifically on queer women’s health issues, 2) provide resources for LBTQ women to get connected to healthcare that is safe and affirming, and 3) encourage queer women to take care of themselves and their health, because we’re worth it!