According to a recent survey by the Women's Coalition Hong Kong (WCHK), a prominent lesbian group, many of them are lacking in their knowledge of sexual health. It was seen that a significant 60 percent of the survey respondents said they never practice safe sex, as against 13 percent of those who said they do.
Most of the respondents also admitted they had never been screened for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or had a cervical smear.
According to sexual health experts, it is a common misconception that there are few health risks involved with lesbian sex. Lesbians are not immune from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), they stress.
Though the risk of transmission of HIV between women is low, there have been case reports. In particular, if one partner is bisexual or an intravenous drug abuser, the risk will be higher than if both partners have only ever engaged in sex with other women.
A study in New York State in the early 1990s found that among women only having sex with other women, 3 percent were HIV positive; this was predominantly traced to IV drug use.
Lesbians can transmit other STDs as well. Herpes and genital warts, both caused by viruses, may be transmitted by genital-genital or oral-genital contact. Bacterial vaginosis (not usually considered an STD among heterosexual women) can be transmitted by woman-to-woman sexual contact.
'Viruses such as HPV (human papilloma virus) can be found on human skin, which could be transmitted between fingers and a vagina.'
Wai-wai, another WCHK official, bemoans the fact that there are few resources or information available in public. Most lesbians do not understand what constitutes protected sex, says Wai-wai.
The WCHK is doing their bit to promote protected sex in the lesbian community. The group has released 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.
In addition, 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.
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,' says Kwan.
'The education on sexual health should go beyond the usual emphasis of heterosexual sex', she stresses.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), all women should have a yearly PAP, regardless of sexual activity.
Experts suggest barriers such as dental dams, cellophane and finger gloves as methods recommended and available for practicing 'safer' sex. These methods are especially encouraged in women who are bisexual and/or who are having multiple partners.