A service provided by the BC Centre for Disease Control



Home / Resources / STI Updates (Blog) / New knowledge / “I’ve literally never heard of dental dams”: STI knowledge among lesbian and bisexual teenage girls

“I’ve literally never heard of dental dams”: STI knowledge among lesbian and bisexual teenage girls


The Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre at the UBC School of Nursing collaborated with the Centre of Innovative Health in the United States to research STI risk and prevention knowledge among young women. 

Online focus groups were conducted with 160 lesbian and bisexual teen girls from across the United States, with a focus on understanding STI and pregnancy risk, and illuminating potential messages for a related intervention.


Overall, our study found that the LGB+ girls in the focus groups did not fully understand their risk for STIs and had very little STI prevention knowledge.

Some girls did not know that they could get STIs from having sex with girls, particularly if they were using sex toys. They were skeptical about how barriers, such as dental dams, might affect sexual pleasure. The majority shared that they did not know how to use barriers to protect themselves. One girl stated, “I’ve literally never head of dental dams [before now].”

When asked why they were unconcerned about getting STIs, many LGB+ girls said it was because they could trust female partners more than they could trust male partners.

Many LGB+ girls said they didn’t know about dental dams or their STI risk because their sexual education programs focused only on heterosexual sex (if they talked about sex at all). Dental dams were not mentioned, nor were simple techniques to turn a condom into a barrier. The girls did not see themselves reflected in sex education programs that focused on pregnancy risk and penises. Not surprisingly, many girls had negative appraisals of their educational experiences.

When we asked LGB+ girls how they reduce their risk for STIs, they mentioned testing. This tells us teenagers are listening and that sex education messages are being heard.  The stigma of testing is decreasing, but other messages are not being heard.

Implications for practice

While sexual education experiences in both the US and  Canada vary from school to school and person to person, this study tells us the importance of clear information about healthy same-sex practices – especially for sexual minority young people.

This research serves as a call for sexual education and health care practitioners to move beyond heterosexual conversations and provide explicit information about sex with partners of all genders. Free dental dams should be distributed to everyone, along with condoms. We need to have conversations about protection and healthy sexual practices that include both same sex and opposite sex partners.

For further information

See our article in the Journal of Adolescent Health: http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(17)30501-3/fulltext