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Published:April 9th, 2009 09:23 EST
Are lesbians free from contracting HIV/AIDs?

Are lesbians free from contracting HIV/AIDs?

By Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo

Are lesbians free from contracting HIV/AIDs?

Your say? Please!

"I am HIV +ve, Should I continue to have unprotected sex with my fellow partner who is also HIV +ve?

I am a lesbian; shall I contract HIV by having unprotected sex with my girlfriend"?

These and many worries still bite our intestines, so! I had to pose the question to most of the people in the forum I belong to.

I was amazed while reading feedback from my forum members, which also has clarified many of the doubts in me. So I thought it wise to share their responses with everybody here at


Question: I have this doubt worrying me and I thought it will be wise if I pose the question to the forum.

Regarding the mitigating measure in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDs within and across the globe, I have hardly come across talks which look at homosexuality as a means of further spreading the pandemic, most especially the lesbians.

My question is; are lesbians susceptible in contracting HIV/AIDs via sexual intercourse?
If no, shall we say that lesbianism is another practice of limiting the spread?


I will be most happy to receive your enlighten feedback



Janet Feldman wrote:


Hello Dear Zoneziwoh and All,


Great to hear from you, and what a wonderful question!  It is one that has a less-than-obvious answer, and is often asked. Lesbians need to consider HIV transmission too, even if not in as major a way as heterosexual women.


The "simple" answer is that it is much harder for lesbians to contract HIV, but absolutely not unheard of, in fact, lesbians still need to practice safe-sex techniques, especially if they are not in a monogamous relationship.


Women in general, because of their physiology, are more easily susceptible to contracting HIV. Therefore, in any blood-transfusion situations or a situation where a woman identifies as lesbian--yet has sex with a man for some reason (including survival, i.e. sex work)--there is always the chance for transmission. Some women who identify as "bisexual"-- even if they live their lives predominately in the lesbian community--are also at risk of contracting, and passing along, HIV/AIDS.


Usually, women who identify as lesbian do not do so primarily for "risk-reduction" reasons. In other words, women who identify as lesbian feel a love--sexual and emotional--for other women. But I have heard of some people who encourage "girls" (adolescents) to be in lesbian (woman-to-woman) sexual relationships, to avoid the spread of HIV/AIDS.


It is ironic that, while "WSW" (women having sex with women) might be encouraged for this reason, MSM (men having sex with men) is discouraged and condemned. Furthermore, there is a great deal of homophobia at the same time! Even when "sex" might be encouraged, the thought that women or men could have romantic feelings for others of their own gender is totally discounted, even condemned.


In my experience, there is also a further gender bias, in that there is so much focus on men having sex (and/or romantic feelings) with men, while women loving (and/or having sex with) women is somehow "discounted" as actual sex or romance. To me this speaks to the sexism and gender discrimination still so much engrained in our human societies around the world.


One other note:  some of those same people who condemn discrimination and stigmatization based on HIV/AIDS status will nonetheless condemn women loving women, and men loving men. They do not seem to understand the link between one form of discrimination and the other, that in fact if you condemn one form of discrimination, you need to condemn all forms, because they are all related.


Thanks again for such an interesting and pertinent question, and hopefully I have given you an equally interesting answer!  With artistic affections and blessings always, Janet




Marco Gomes wrote:


I often hear, are lesbians really at risk for HIV and AIDS? What is the likelihood of transmission of the HIV virus from one female to another? Do lesbians really need to worry about safer sex?


Let`s start with the basics. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for HIV. Yes, female-to-female transmission of HIV is possible and it has happened. Unfortunately, to date there have not been many studies that have examined lesbian sexual acts and the transmission of HIV.


First: Who are Lesbians?

What makes a lesbian? Lesbians are women who have sex with other women. But does that mean they do not have sex with men? Remember, women can identify as lesbian and still have sex with men, use drugs, have sex for money, be victims of rape or abuse or have artificial insemination, all of which can put them at risk for HIV.


What is the Risk of HIV for Lesbians?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, documented cases of female-to-female transmission of HIV appears to be a rare occurrence. The CDC reports there are case reports of female-to-female transmission of HIV, but it do not specify how many. From the CDC web site: " The well documented risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV shows that vaginal secretions and menstrual blood may contain the virus and that mucous membrane (e.g., oral, vaginal) exposure to these secretions has the potential to lead to HIV infection."


Why are the Reported Cases of Lesbians with HIV rare?

To understand why there have been so few cases of female-female HIV reported, you must understand how the CDC documents transmission. If a woman has sex with another woman and has other risk factors, such as drug use, the CDC would traditionally classify the transmission under one of those factors or as undetermined. Under the CDC guidelines, heterosexual sex is not ruled out as a risk factor unless a woman hasn`t had sex with a man since 1978.


Sexism is a Factor

It took more than 10 years for the CDC to expand its definition of AIDS to include opportunistic infections that affected females. A saying from the late 1980s was, Women don`t get AIDS, and they just die from it. From the CDC`s website: Through December 1998, 109,311 women were reported with AIDS. Of these, 2,220 were reported to have had sex with women; however, the vast majority had other risks (such as injection drug use, sex with high-risk men, or receipt of blood or blood products). Of the 347 (out of 2,220) women who were reported to have had sex only with women, 98% also had another risk-- injection drug use in most cases.


Note: information on whether a woman had sex with women is missing in half of the 109,311 case reports, possibly because the physician did not elicit the information or the woman did not volunteer it.


Documented Cases of Transmission

According to Self-help Magazine, the first suspected case of transmission from one woman to another was in 1984. Other cases soon followed in 1986, 1987 and 1993. In 2003 a 20-year-old African American lesbian from Philadelphia contracted HIV from her female partner. Most likely she was infected from the use of sex toys, "used vigorously enough to cause exchange of blood-tinged body fluids," according to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. This young woman had no other risk factors: she did not use intravenous drugs, had never had sex with a man, never had a blood transfusion, had no tattoos or piercing and only had sex with her partner for the previous two years.


Lesbians with HIV/AIDS

In 1992 the Lesbian AIDS project was started in New York City. It started with a caseload of 30 women and by the end of two years had jumped to 400 HIV positive lesbians. Currently the Lesbian AIDS project serves more than 1,000 HIV positive lesbians.

These are the known cases of lesbians with HIV or AIDS. Other studies have shown that there is reason to believe lesbians may be at a higher risk than the CDC is willing to admit.


Injection Drug Use

According to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at University of California, San Francisco, among injection drug users, women who have sex with other women have higher HIV rates than do women who have sex with men only. A study of female injection drug users in 14 US cities found that, compared to heterosexual women, women who had a female sex partner were more likely to share syringes, to exchange sex for drugs or money, to be homeless and to seroconvert.


Lesbians and Bisexual Women who have Sex with Men

Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual and have sex with men may be at higher risk for HIV than heterosexual women. Lesbians and bisexual women may have sex with gay or bisexual men and not use condoms.

 A 1996 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 81% of lesbians and bisexual women in San Francisco reported sex with men in the past three years.  Of those women, 39% reported unprotected vaginal sex.  11% reported unprotected anal sex.

 A study of lesbian and bisexual women in 16 small cities in the US found that 39% reported sex with gay/bisexual men.  20% reported sex with an intravenous drug user.

What is Lesbian Sex?

Lesbians have different sexual practices, which have different levels of risk for HIV. Oral sex is thought to pose a relatively low risk. Acts such as sharing sex toys, hand play with long fingernails or cuts pose higher risk.

Lesbian Youth and AIDS

Young lesbians and bisexual women just coming out often experiment sexually with their gay male friends. Societal pressure and negative attitudes about homosexuality may increase young lesbians risk for contracting HIV. A study in San Francisco found that young lesbians engaged in high rates of alcohol and drug use, unprotected sex with men and sexual experimentation with young gay men as a way of coping with homophobia and societal pressures.


What does it all mean?

Just because there have not been adequate studies of lesbians and AIDS does not mean that lesbians are not at risk or HIV and AIDS. The fact is, homophobia and lesbian invisibility exist. Lesbians who have HIV may not be honest with their health care providers for fear of discrimination. My guess is, there are more lesbians with AIDS than we know about.

Best Regard,

Marco Gomes


Oscar oundo wrote:

there is nothing like such also lesbians are susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDs through the bodily fluids that everyone secretes during any sexual contact also some of the paraphernalia they use during their supposed copulation stints are avenues for contracting the virus. There is no safe way like prevention. And for the Lesbos they should know how to operate or they will fall prey to this deadly virus that is wiping the populace

Ntoweett wrote:


Check out these links they may be of use to you. [1] [2]

I recently worked as part of the team that help set up Kenya`s gay and lesbian community centre.

While there I realized there is so little information out in the public domain about lesbians and their risk to contracting HIV/Aids.

I have an interest in conducting this research here in Kenya.

Thank you.

Naijeria Toweett


Mbah Harry Agwa  wrote:

I Belief lesbians are as exposed to HIV as everyone else but I still do believe strongly that if their sexual lifestyle do not involve any form of semen transfer as the case in gays and straight people then they stand a higher chance of not being infected through sexual intercourse. In this circumstance their infection may come only through blood transfusion or through an infected needle.



Many thanks to all

Further ideas are welcomed