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Lesbians Not Immune to STD Risk
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Sixty percent of the respondents in a recent survey about sexual health among lesbians said they never practice safe sex, compared with 13 percent of those who said they do.

The recent survey by the Women's Coalition Hong Kong (WCHK), a prominent lesbian group, has revealed a lack of awareness of sexual health among local lesbians.

Most of the respondents - 459 of the 694 - said they had never been screened for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or had a cervical smear.

It is a common misconception that there are few health risks involved with lesbian sex. However, it is possible to transmit many STDs, including HIV, through means other than sexual intercourse, such as the exchange of bodily fluids.

"You could contract a virus by giving oral sex if there is a wound in your mouth," said Connie Chan, a spokesperson for WCHK. "Viruses such as HPV (human papilloma virus) can be found on human skin, which could be transmitted between fingers and a vagina."

The sharing of sex toys also poses high risks if the users do not use or change a condom for each insertion.

While the issue is pressing for the lesbian community, Wai-wai, another WCHK official, noted that most lesbians do not understand what constitutes protected sex, as there are few resources or information available in public.

"Many people haven't heard of condoms for oral sex, which aren't readily available in drug stores," said Wai-wai. "The items needed for protected lesbian sex are for sale at sex shops, but some aren't exactly cheap."

To promote protected sex in the lesbian community, the WCHK has produced a guidebook explaining the health risks involved in different sexual activities and methods of protection. It also provides contact information for sexual health service providers.

The Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (FPA) has also joined forces with the WCHK to launch a lesbian-friendly medical checkup at the end of this month.

"Many lesbians pay little attention to protected sex since they don't have the need to practice birth control," said Helen Wong, FPA's press officer.

Family doctor Betty Kwan pinpointed an urgent need for strengthened sexual health education among lesbians, many of whom skip regular medical checkups and shy away from the thought of STDs.

"Many of my lesbian clients only get a checkup when they're unwell and find out they have contracted a virus," said Kwan.

"The education on sexual health should go beyond the usual emphasis of heterosexual sex."

(China Daily August 23, 2007)

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