Pap Smears & Preventing STI’s

By Dr Ruth McNair. Updated 13th October 2014

Women who have sex with women are no different from other women in needing to have Pap tests every two years. The cause of most abnormal Pap test results is human papilloma virus (HPV) and HPV can be transmitted from one woman to another during penetrative sex. It is a myth that lesbians don’t need Pap tests, however in Australia, young lesbians have less regular pap tests than their peers.

Women who have sex with women can be infected with STIs and can infect their partner during sex. Infections include

  • Vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis (BV) or thrush (Candida)
  • Vulval infections such as genital herpes (herpes simplex virus), and human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Cervical and pelvic infections such as Chlamydia
  • Blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B or C, syphilis or HIV – these are rarely transmitted between women

Undetected STIs can lead to reduced fertility and abnormalities of the cervix including cancers, so preventing STIs is important. Safe sex includes preventing sharing of vaginal and cervix fluids between women, and/or using different fingers or hands for different areas during sex. Using condoms on sex toys, and using dams or avoiding oral sex when a cold sore (oral herpes) is prevent can also prevent STIs.

Testing can be arranged to detect these infections, including vulval, vaginal and cervical swabs and blood testing.

More information:

Papscreen Victoria
An excellent website for consumers and health care providers on everything there is to know about Pap smears:

Article on lesbian and bisexual women’s sexual health, Written by Ruth McNair and published in the Australian Family Physician journal Volume 38, No.6, June 2009,