Continuing the Conversation About Safe Sex


Continuing the Conversation

About Safe Sex

by LaShay Harvey, M.Ed.

My 16 year old came out as bisexual, and I’m very supportive… I’m just not sure what I should say to her about safe sex. We’ve had ‘the talk’ before, but I had assumed she was straight at the time…
— Anonymous

LaShay says:

It is so exciting to know that you have not only created a space of open communication around sex and sexuality, but that you are also supportive of your child’s decisions!  Lucky for you, since you’ve already laid the foundation for safe sex, you can have what I call a “continuation conversation.” Here you can build on the principles I imagine you have already outlined for your daughter—principles that include communication prior to sexual activity, getting tested regularly, and protection.  Before I provide some conversation starters, I want to highlight some misconceptions about safe sex and bisexuality, particularly for female-identified folks.

There is no such thing as “riskless sex.”  There are many people who are under the impression that two women having sex are not at risk for disease or infection.  This is simply not true. Yes, HIV is a very rare occurrence between women and we have never heard of a woman impregnating another woman, but infections like herpes and bacterial vaginosis* can be passed between women.

There is protection.  Yes, most everyone knows that male condoms can be found anywhere, in any size, color, flavor, and on and on.  But many people have never heard of or know where to find dental dams.  They are square or rectangle pieces of latex used as a barrier during oral sex. They help protect against the skin-to-skin transmission of STIs and fluid exchange.

I don’t have to get tested. Getting tested regularly, no matter the gender, is so important. It helps people take responsibility for their own sexual health, it reduces the anxiety around testing the more frequently you do it, and it also sets the bar for what is to be expected from current and future sex partners.

Now that you have some idea about the misconceptions floating around, you will be better prepared when you have “the talk” again with your daughter. Here are a few ways to help you continue that conversation as smoothly as possible.

Stay calm and don’t panic. The hardest part is over. You have already had a conversation with your daughter about sex.  Staying calm allows you to listen and process what your daughter may have to say, as well as provide confident feedback. Spastic parents often appear insecure and less confident to children. 

Ask questions.  It is always a good idea to ask your child what they think about safe sex in this new space—how confident they feel about being able to practice safe sex with a new identity.  Ask what she thinks the barriers to having safe sex may be, and brainstorm ways to help her overcome those barriers.

Keep lines of communication open.  Discovering a new identity often comes with many questions and desires. Assure your child that they can come to you when they have questions or just need a sounding board. I remind parents that I work with that: “processing is part of the process.” Your child may be confident about something on Monday and by Friday have seemingly made a 180-degree change. Open lines of communication can better help you and your child navigate this time.

*Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is not considered a sexually transmitted infection since the bacteria that causes it is already present in the vagina. However, it is a common infection between women who have sex with one another.

And just in case you have a daughter who likes to research on her own (I was totally that kid!), here are a few online resources she can access. Scarleteen specializes in sexuality information for teens to early 20s. Advocates for Youth are all about helping teens and young adults make well-informed sexual health decisions.  And there is always the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS); they’ve been around for quite a while!

LaShay Harvey, M.Ed., is a sexologist, professor, and researcher from the south, currently living in Baltimore, MD. LaShay teaches a course on sexuality and a course on gender at The University of Baltimore. She also coordinates a study on pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) at The Johns Hopkins University.