To acquire wisdom, one must observe

SSIS advice column

Welcome back to the SSIS column, where we answer any and all of Brandeis students’ questions about sex, sexuality, identity and relationships. If you have a question you’d like answered in our next column, email ssis@brandeis.edu or leave a question in the Google Form link on the Student Sexuality Information Service Facebook page. Any and all questions are welcome: there are no bad, stupid or weird questions! 

(Note: These answers are good-faith attempts by SSIS to be helpful to the Brandeis community, and are by no means exhaustive or to be taken as universal. If these answers don’t resonate with you, either pay them no mind or reach out to us with suggestions for improvement!)

If neither my partner or I have had sex or touched genitalia before/had ours touched by others, what kind of protection is necessary for us to be safely intimate (we are both cisgender girls)? Do we need protection? What are the risks involved here?

Thank you for reaching out to SSIS! This is a great question. 

According to Planned Parenthood, cis women who have sex only with cis women are at less risk than other women for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV. Still, they are at risk for other infections such as bacterial vaginosis, herpes, HPV, pubic lice and trichomoniasis. Using barrier methods can be a great way to minimize fluid transmission and lower the risk of STI transmission. These include finger cots and gloves for manual stimulation/penetration and dental dams for oral sex. It’s important to be aware that toys can also transmit STIs, so using condoms and barrier methods on toys, as well as cleaning them after use, can greatly reduce the risk of STI transmission. (Note: SSIS sells condoms, finger cots, dental dams and gloves 10 for $1!)

Since you’ve said you and your partner have never experienced direct genital contact, the risk for having and transmitting STIs is much lower than it would be for sexually active partners. However, it is still possible to have and transmit certain STIs, even if neither one of you has ever had sex. Skin-to-skin transmitted STIs, for instance, can be present on the thighs and/or buttocks and can be spread even in the absence of direct genital contact. Also, some STIs can be spread in non-sexual ways, such as using IV drugs or passing from mother to child during childbirth.

If this is something you are concerned about, getting tested for STIs is a great way to know for sure whether you or your partner have an STI. Luckily, the Brandeis Health Center offers free routine testing for STIs including HIV, chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea. If/when you are on campus, you can make an appointment with them on the Brandeis Secure Patient Portal.  Additionally, if you want the visit to stay confidential, without any bills sent to your home, just let the doctor/nurse know. If you are off campus, feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss testing options in your area.

If you and your partner are monogamous and both test negative for STIs, the risk of STI transmission are quite low. Many monogamous couples who test negative for STIs choose not to use barrier methods, while others choose to continue to use them. However, many factors can play into one’s decision to use barrier methods or not, such as risk of pregnancy, number of partners and personal preference. Whatever you choose, is up to you and your partner(s).  

Overall, since you and your partner have not been sexually active, the risk that either of you has an STI is relatively low. It’s great that you are thinking about the risks and about protection before becoming sexually active.

Hopefully this information helps! If you have any other questions, please come to SSIS’s office hours or send us a message on Instagram, Facebook or at ssis@brandeis.edu

How do I bring up the conversation of sexuality with a friend who has made comments that make it clear she is not straight, but has not said it outright?

Thank you for your question! Navigating the topic of sexuality can be difficult, especially if you have grown up in an environment where talking about sexuality is uncommon or discouraged. It’s important to consider where your friend is coming from; they might be totally comfortable talking about this topic directly with you, or they might not. Above all, it’s important to offer a nonjudgmental, patient ear.

It is possible that your friend isn’t sure about how to navigate this conversation directly, so they may be using indirect methods of communication to test the waters and see if you are receptive. It might be that your friend is looking for a way to talk about this with you, but needs a little encouragement. If you feel comfortable, initiating the conversation first may help create an environment in which your friend feels comfortable talking directly about sexuality. For example, bringing up your own experiences with sexuality might help your friend to see that they are not alone and that there are people comfortable with and willing to engage in this topic of conversation with them. If your friend seems comfortable hearing about your experiences, you might try asking them, “What do you think?” or “What’s been your experience with this?” to gently encourage further conversation. 

However, if they seem uncomfortable or not receptive to this, be ready to pivot the conversation to another topic.  It may be that your friend is not ready to talk openly and directly about their sexuality, and that’s okay. Even just sharing your own experiences can be a first step to opening up a dialogue about sexuality in your relationship.

This can be a difficult conversation to bring up, and it’s awesome that you are thinking about this and asking for help. If it would be helpful to practice or roleplay this conversation before bringing it up with your friend, SSIS is happy to provide that support. Just email or DM us on our social media, and one of our members will be happy to talk about this with you! 

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