Infections can be transmitted by skin, mouth-to-vagina, menstrual blood, vaginal fluids and sex toys, and it doesn’t matter who you are or what your junk looks like.
Some STIs and other infections are more common in lesbian or bisexual women who have sex with women, for example bacterial vaginosis, but there are some that are less common, like HIV. Women who have sex with women may also have sex with men, so this again increases the risks more broadly.
BV is more common in lesbian and bisexual women since it’s more difficult for men to maintain a Gardnerella vaginalis infection on their penis. Learn more about BV transmission here. BV is spread via seed bacteria, and this seed bacteria finds itself very much at home in a vagina, but less so on a penis. An infection on a penis usually lasts just a few weeks before it disappears (but not always). BV can cause a fishy odour, itching, and a grey discharge, but it can also cause no symptoms at all, and be found during a routine test.
Chlamydia is a bacteria that is spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex.
Genital herpes is caused by a virus (HSV-1 or HSV-2), with HSV-2 usually causing genital symptoms. HSV-1 causes cold sores on the mouth, which can be spread to the genitals via oral sex. HSV-2 can be passed from genital to genital contact.
Many people have HSV infection but don’t know it, and it can remain latent (with no symptoms) for a long time or forever, popping up when your immunity is compromised, like during a stressful period.
HPV and genital warts
HPV is spread simply by touching genitals (skin-to-skin contact) and via sex toys or touching. HPV can cause cervical cancer (and it is being linked with other cancers like anal cancer and genital cancers) if left unchecked, so make sure to get regular Pap tests. Lesbians and bisexual women need Pap tests just as much as heterosexual women.
Pubic lice can affect anyone, and are passed on by close contact with infected pubic hair, towels, bedding and clothing.
Trich is a bacterial infection passed on with the swapping of body fluids, but also via damp, moist objects like towels or wet clothes.
Less common infections in lesbian and bisexual women
Gonorrhoea lives in vaginal fluids, so it is possible to transmit this STI to another woman. Gonorrhoea is less commonly found in women who have sex with women.
Hep B is a virus spread through blood, semen and vaginal fluid, so sexual contact can result in Hep B infection.
HIV is a virus spread through vaginal fluids, blood, semen and breast milk, though sex with men presents a much higher risk of infection than sex with women. It’s possible to spread HIV via woman-on-woman sex, but this is rare.
Syphilis is caused by a bacteria and is caught through direct contact with a syphilis sore. These sores can present anywhere on the body, but it is most often a sexually transmitted infection, so the locale of infection is the genitals. The sores are painless, which means sometimes they are not detected by the person, on or in the vagina, anus or mouth. Syphilis is rare amongst lesbians.