If you are just beginning to be aware of romantic or sexual attraction to other women your feelings might have taken you by surprise. Most of the relationships which are visible to us at home, in society and in the media are straight relationships and most of us grow up thinking our relationships will follow suit - or feel that our relationships are expected to be straight.
Around 1 in 10 people are gay, lesbian or bisexual. Most major UK cities have thriving LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) communities and there are plenty of ways to meet like-minded people.
Some women know as children that boys are not for them. Others begin to be attracted to other women in their teens or early twenties. Some women will form relationships with men, have children and perhaps grandchildren before they first become aware of their attraction to women. No matter how old you are, this period can feel really confusing, upsetting and inconvenient, and there are organisations that can help you get your head around what is happening.
What is 'Coming Out?'
The term ‘coming out’ or ‘coming out of the closet’ refers to the disclosure of your sexuality. We never just come out once. Coming out happens every time you meet a new person or start a new job for example. The first time you come out is generally the biggest deal and is a time you are unlikely to forget. Coming out can be extremely challenging but also completely liberating. Coming out is about being honest about who you are and finally being able to be yourself.
Are you ready to come out?
Only you will know when its the right time for you to come out. Here is a quick checklist to help you think things through:
- Are you sure you are lesbian/bisexual? Take your time to be sure.
- Are you comfortable and happy with yourself? If you are happy with who you are it will be easier to explain to the people around you. If you aren’t happy and are struggling to come to terms with your sexuality, you may need to seek some support before coming out.
- Why are you coming out? Do it for you, not because someone else is telling you to come out.
- Are you prepared for people’s reactions? Depending on who you are coming out to, you are likely to face a range of weird, wonderful and potentially upsetting reactions. Aim to have some support around you. Also, be understanding of those people who are clueless to sexuality issues and who may say the wrong thing. You are the beginning of their education!
There are a number of factors which may affect the mental health of LGBT people differently to heterosexual people. Coming out, accepting yourself, homophobia at school/work are just a few of the challenges that are unique to being LGBT. A lack of positive LGBT role models means it can sometimes be difficult to know how to be and what to do in challenging situations.
Some LGBT people do not struggle to come out. They have support around them and they have an inner confidence which means they are able to challenge if they feel they are being treated unfairly. However, not all LGBT people have the same experience. This is why there are services available to support LGBT people through some of the tougher times.
For more information and support follow these links:
Safer Sex for Lesbian & Bisexual Women
The myth that women can’t have sex with women has led to another myth that women can’t get STIs from having sex together...
The myth that women can’t have sex with women has led to another myth that women can’t get STIs from having sex together. The fact that lesbian sex is not taken particularly seriously makes it difficult for lesbian and bisexual women to look after their sexual health due to a fear to talk openly with health practitioners about intimate aspects of their lives.
FACT: Women who sleep with women are less likely to mention their sexuality to health staff
FACT: Women who sleep with women are less likely to seek sexual health advice as they have been informed that L/BI can’t get STIs
Safer Sex Tips
- Keep finger nails short and filed and remove jewellery
- Use a dental dam (thin sheet of latex) during oral sex to prevent transmission of STI’s
- If you share sex toys, use new condoms for each person to avoid passing STI’s
- Use water-based lube to ease penetration
- Communicate with your partner - don’t be afraid to make suggestions that will help keep you both safer and more comfortable
Sex, Drugs & Alcohol
Research has shown that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to use drugs and alcohol than straight women. There are a number of factors contributing to this trend, one of which is the ‘gay scene’ which means that many social opportunities for lesbian and bisexual women are alcohol and drugs oriented. The pressure of coming out and homophobia can also cause some women to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
People use drugs and alcohol for different reasons but when linked to sex it is often about calming nerves and lowering inhibitions. It is important to be aware of the effect drugs and alcohol has on you and to know your own limits. Both drugs and alcohol impair judgment and makes us more vulnerable than usual. You are far more at risk of a range of negative experiences when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, from sleeping with someone you wouldn’t choose to sleep with when sober, to losing your brand new mobile phone.
Several national studies have shown that the use of alcohol leads to unprotected sex, taking part in risky sex and having sex with many different partners. It also shows us that there is a link between binge drinking and unwanted sex (i.e. sex you weren't able or willing to agree to or that you regret having). Being aware of our alcohol levels is therefore very closely tied to reducing the risk of having unsafe sex.
There is plenty of information, advice and support available if you are worried about yourself or someone else and the effects of drugs and/or alcohol.
For more information and support follow these links:
- Talk to Frank website - www.talktofrank.com includes an A-Z of drugs and a national directory of support and treatment services.
- ADDACTION - www.addaction.org.uk is a leading UK drug and alcohol charity. The website links to local Addaction services.
- LGBT Foundation - http://lgbt.foundation This site offers lots of information, including information around drinking and doing drugs specifically for Lesbian women.
Lesbian and bisexual women use contraception for different reasons; to manage periods, bleeding patterns and period pains, to control hormonal disturbances and to prevent unwanted pregnancies with male partners.
It is likely that women who attend a health care service and ask for contraception advice will be assumed to be straight. Some lesbian and bisexual women may choose not to correct this assumption to avoid outing themselves. The more details you give to the doctor/nurse, the better they will be able to guide you around what contraceptives to choose.
Nurses can give advice and condoms. For other types of contraception you may need to see a doctor. You can request to see a female doctor.
Lesbian Bed Death
Myth - Lesbian Bed Death (LBD)
LBD is a term used to describe a loss of interest in sex that some women in relationships with women experience. This is a myth because a) it doesn’t happen to all lesbian and bisexual women and b) bed death can happen to any couple regardless of sexual orientation.