Friday, September 13, 2013

Dental Damnit!

Proof safe sex can be cute!

I recently had a friend who was getting back into the lesbian life after a long hiatus ask me a safe sex question. She has a new girlfriend who disclosed having herpes, and she wanted to know how they could still have sex while reducing the risk of transmission. I've made no bones about it in the past that I think sex-ed in the U.S. is shit and the lesbian specific sex-ed is non-freaking-existent. So I'm going to throw out some of it right now.

Let me start by saying, there's a big stigma attached to herpes that doesn't make a lot of sense. And I'm not the only sexpert who feels this way. Yep, it's a virus so if you get it you'll have it forever. Yep, outbreaks are damn unpleasant. But that's really about as bad as it gets. (There's some deep down the rabbit hole stuff about if you have herpes 2 and bacterial vaginosis at the same time you can be more susceptible to some types of HIV transmission, but if you're the extraordinarily rare person that has all those things happening at once, you need to be taking your sex advice from a board certified gynecologist, not me.) Herpes won't make you sterile, it won't kill you, and it doesn't increase your risk for cancer like some types of HPV can. There's this whole "unclean" attitude, especially within the lesbian community, about herpes that is overblown. If people take precautions, they can keep it from spreading, but even if it does, it's not the end of the world.

Which day are you on?

There are relationship kudos that need to be handed out in this situation too. The partner in question knew her status on an STD and disclosed it to her girlfriend before sexual contact--that's exactly the right, respectful, and responsible thing to do. Dan Savage has GGG, and I have RRR: act right, respectful, and responsible when it comes to safe sex. My friend, when she found out her partner had an STD, didn't freak out and dump her, realized she didn't know what to do to keep it from spreading, and then asked for safe sex advice. That's all perfect RRR behavior. Good job, ladies, on communicating well and acting responsibly!

For Herps2, the biggest safe sex no-no is having sex when she's having an active breakout. That's a pretty common sense one and really, if she's having an outbreak, she's probably feeling unsexy and uncomfortable anyway. But definitely if there are sores, avoid sexual contact until it has passed. If she's on anti-viral medication, which a lot of people with Herps2 are these days, outbreaks are going to be fairly few and far between so completely avoiding sex during them may sound like a big deal on the surface, but in practice it's probably going to be an uncommon inconvenience.

This is a medical use of dental dams, but I freaked you out, didn't I?

Dental dams are always recommended for going down on someone with any STD. Herps2 can turn into Herps1 during oral sex or vice-versa. If someone has outbreaks around their mouth (aka Herps1), then she'll need to use a dental dam when going down on someone as well. It's harder for the virus to go from vagina to mouth than from mouth to vagina, but it can happen, so be safe regardless of whether its type 1 or 2. Dental dams come in cool flavors, colors, etc. OR in a pinch if you don't have one, good old plastic wrap from the kitchen can work, if you avoid the microwave safe kind. Condoms slit up the side can also turn into dental dams, especially the polyurethane kind, but this can get expensive. Go Ask Alice has the whole skinny on dental dam purchasing, but basically these days you can order them online really easy. Plastic wrap is also a pretty good route to take--it's cheap, plentiful, easily obtained without stigma, and you can size it yourself. It's also a little thinner than some dental dams to allow for more sensation. The origin of dental dams is in dentistry where they used the stretchy things during heavy duty dental work to make sure tooth stuff didn't fall down your throat (see the picture above for how) while you were all zapped out on laughing gas. They've made changes since, of course, but pleasure giving was not really a consideration in their original design.

Toy stuff, if you two are into that sort of thing and not everyone is...basically just keep a her set and a your set to avoid STD transmission, clean them thoroughly after use, try not to mix them up, use the dishwasher if they're the dishwasher safe types, and if you're really concerned still, condoms fit over most toys. Toys generally aren't great transmitters of STDs (especially the glass or metal kinds), but it's still enough of a risk to want to avoid the whole thing by simply having hers and hers sets. The cyber skin and silicon kind can get micro-abrasions that resist cleaning and can hide the Herps2 virus so for these keeping them separate is the only way to be sure. With the glass kind, you can boil them in water if you're really germ-phobic and it'll work just fine once it cools down, but if you do that with cyber skin types of toys you'll probably end up with dildo soup.

Get spruced up for your date!

For scissoring...I just don't know that I would do it. There are the plastic wrap protection steps that can be taken, although that'll kill the sensation and good luck keeping a dental dam or a piece of plastic wrap in the right place for very long doing that. This is just going to be a riskier act than others. With anti-viral medications, the transmission rate can be really, really low, but scissoring will still hold risk. My girlfriend told me she'd still want to it if I had Herps2 (because she's a total sweetheart and it's easy to promise that since I'm not infected), but it is up to the individuals in the couple to decide if that's worth it.

As for fingers, jokingly known as the true lesbian sex organ, just don't go from inside her to your mouth or inside you without washing your hands in between. This one's pretty simple. Your fingers can transmit the virus (or more specifically vaginal fluids on fingers can) in the same way touching things spreads all sorts of diseases. There's a thing called herpes whitlow where the virus spreads to areas not commonly infected like the eyes or fingers. This is easy to avoid though by not touching the sores during an outbreak and washing your hands between uses. Obviously if you have a cut on your finger, that'll seriously jump up your risk of whitlow infection, but that's also avoidable with a latex glove as needed.

The Herpes virus likes genitals, tolerates mouths, and doesn't care for much else on the human body. It's also becoming far less virulent over the years, and the anti-viral medications available for it now work really well to reduce outbreaks and transmission rates. All that being said, it can still jump without symptoms present so being cavalier about it is unwise. Dental dams (or dental dam simulacrums mentioned earlier) are really the most important aspect to safe sex in the specific case of herpes, but in general they're a good rule to avoid any STD transmission.