The myth of vagina invincibility puts women who have sex with women at sexual risk

HOLAA developed a safe sex and pleasure manual. Download the whole thing here.

By Kagure Mugo

How do two women have sex, you see I saw this thing on Pornhub…”

I must always stop the person right there, Pornhub being the Wikipedia of the sexual education realm. This is, however, a question that comes up more often than one would actually think. The intricacies of sex without a penis tend to baffle a great number of people, including some of the women actually having this sex.

The study of women’s sexual practices outside of the realms of “taking the D”, is quite often relegated to a certain space on the internet with few mainstream conversations not including the notion ‘how does one film this in the most gritty manner ever?’.

Thus, as an organisation, we at HOLAA! decided to do a series on safe sex and pleasure for women, starting with dialogues, moving onto a workshop and ending off with a manual that had everything from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) women can get to what to watch out for when making your own sex toy. It was quite the enlightening experience as women from around the continent spoke about their sex that did not involve the opposite sex. When embarking on a safe sex and pleasure series you learn a few key things about two women having sex with each other.

Safe sex between women is the unicorn of the health realm.

Any consultation on safe sex worth its salt will always ask one question: are you sexually active? This is a pretty decent question considering what you are there for. However, the minute that you mention that your partner is a woman you suddenly become akin to Sister Martha from the Order of St Francis asking for condoms.

You can practically hear them writing “celibate” on the form.

Few medical practitioners consider the needs of women who have sex with women in terms of their sexual health. The perception is that gay men can get HIV, straight people have the reproduction thing to contend with, but when two women get together they just have a pillow fight and fall asleep cuddling. Such thinking leaves women vulnerable to a host of diseases, including Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Herpes Simplex virus.

For women who have sex with women, HIV rates are low, but they are not non-existent. Studies by Theo Sandfort and others in 2013 and Helen Wells and Louise Polders, in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana say there is a 9.6% rate of self-reported HIV infection among them. Zethu Matebeni and Vasu Reddy, in their 2014 report entitled ‘I thought we are safe’: Southern African lesbians’ experiences of living with HIV, report an informant who says: “Five participants self-reported, with much disbelief, that their female partners could have possibly infected them … Although difficult for all of them to understand, the only possible route of transmission … they could report was sex with other females.”

Dental dams, a recommended safe-sex technique for women, can feel like a nuisance. They are hard to use and even to find. Using cling film as a replacement is not necessarily safer – or more fun.

The stunted nature of the conversation around safe sex between two women means that the conversation on consent is also underdeveloped or silenced. Instances of sexual assault are rife within queer women spaces, fuelled by rape culture-esque ideas of ‘she gave me the look’ and ‘she never actually said no’. The resounding silence around this toxic phenomenon is fuelled by ideas that assault only occurs when someone forcibly shoves a penis inside you. Thus with two women, no penis no rape, which means no need to really talk about ideas of consent.

This is wildly flawed because as long as there is a body, there is the idea of personal space and bodily autonomy and thus the potential for assault.

Sex between two women is mostly left out of the Sexual Reproductive Health Rights conversation because no one is getting pregnant or getting HIV at an alarming rate. However, these women are still at risk, in terms of health, knowledge and also emotionally and physically.

Not only is the conversation globally stunted but is also not happening amongst the women themselves at the rate it should. This not only leaves a whole demographic vulnerable and unable to access their full breadth of rights in terms of access to health and bodily autonomy but also on the outskirts of truly enjoying pleasure.

Without discussions of everything from consent to Chlamydia to upgraded cunnilingus, there is no space to engage with a full sexual existence.

First published on Mail and Guardian.

For more on the safe sex and pleasure series click here. To download the manual click here.

 

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