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WSW (Women who have Sex with other Women):
What You Don’t Know Can KILL You!
Claire J. Griffin, LCSW

HIV/AIDS has been a reality in our lives for over 20 years and during this time women as a gender group are still being excluded from information regarding not only prevention but also treatment and its effect on our bodies.  Women continue to be treated as a monolithic community, with one woman being equal to all women even as it relates to our sexual practices, sexual orientations (not preferences), race/ethnicity, and the ills we live with and battle through each day.  The simple truth is that we are a diverse community sharing only the commonality that we identify as WOMYN.* (empowerment spelling)  There are some of you who may already know that HIV/AIDS impacts and effects us differently than men, however if we are to improve the quality of our lives and that of our children (should we elect to have them), then we must educate ourselves as well as those who seek to treat us because what you don’t know can kill you!

That being said, it is important to begin by reviewing briefly the history of the HIV virus as it pertains to women, most specifically to the population of all women in general who have engaged in unprotected sex with another female, regardless of how you identify in terms of your sexual orientation and to those women in particular who specifically identify as Lesbian.  I am also addressing Transsexual Women whether pre or post operative in their efforts to correct for birth anatomy.

In 1986 Wofsy & Associates published a study entitled “Isolation of AID–associated Retroviruses from Genital Secretions of Female with antibodies to the virus”, translation the subject of study was an HIV (+) female and the researchers wanted to know if they could obtain (live or infectious) HIV from her genital secretions alone.  The result of this research was stated as follows:

                                …Since there is potential for HIV transmission through vaginal secretions and
                                mucous membranes exposure to them, female-to-female sex cannot be ruled
                                out as a potential cause of HIV infection in women.  (Lancet, 1986; Vol.1 pp. 527-9)

A full six years later, the CDC decides to begin its own study attempting to better understand the sexual behaviors and practices of women.  Despite the fact that they interviewed over 15,000 women, 511 of whom voluntarily disclosed that they had sexual encounters with other women in addition to the men that some also acknowledged engaging with, the women were never questioned about those WSW encounters!  They were only questioned explicitly about the men they encountered.    Later information would be released that played down and misrepresented the initial findings of Wofsy and Associates the CDC concluded that:

Our results support previous data suggesting that female-to-female transmission
 of HIV is probably rare.”
   (Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, Vol 5, No 8, 1992)

It took an additional six years (1998) before researchers finally disclosed the TRUTH that the recovery of HIV from cervical mucous and cervico-vaginal lavage fluid is similar to that found in semen, meaning that just as it is known that the replication rate of HIV-DNA and cell-free HIV-RNA in male sperm (semen) is 10,000 copies/ml, that rate is also found to be true when the medium is cervical mucous and cervico-vaginal lavage fluids!  Further, whenever this amount is exceeded for either semen or cervico-vaginal lavage fluids, then that medium is said to be infectious (able to transmit the HIV virus).  So for those of us who still believe that unprotected sex between females whether oral-vaginal or digital-vaginal is safe THINK AGAIN!  Digital-vaginal is risky because there may be an open cut on the finger, also if you have long nails then you place your partner at risk because you may unintentionally cause her to receive a cut in her vaginal canal, setting her up for additional risks if there happens to be another partner (male or female) that she has not told you about!  This later places you at risk when you return!


Claire J. Griffin is an out Afrikan American Lesbian, LCSW, HIV/AIDS Educator and Mental Health Services Provider who believes it important to share this article with "ALL OF MY SISTAHS who are both infected and affected by HIV."   Learn more about Claire J. Griffin, LCSW

Claire Griffin, LCSW
Founder/Executive Director

**Article previously published in the New Jersey Women & AIDS Network Newsletter


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