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Maybe you’re prepping for your first close encounter of the lesbian kind or maybe you’re just curious. Regardless of why you want the lowdown, the first thing to know is that lesbian sex comes in all varieties — just like hetero sex, gay sex, and so on.

For some reason, there are a lot of misconceptions about sex between women. So we’re setting the record straight.

Here’s everything you need to know about how lesbians have sex.

Human sexuality comes in all the colors of the rainbow. Maybe you identify as bisexual instead of lesbian. Maybe your partner is pansexual. Maybe you’re as cisgender as they come — meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth — while your partner is transgender.

Here’s the rub: A woman who has sex with another woman might not identify as lesbian.

Sex happens between trans women with penises, non-lesbian-identifying people with vaginas, and intersex folks. So defining “lesbian sex” is hella complicated. It could also include a variety of sex acts.

Whether you were an A+ student in sex ed or you got schooled by the neighbor kid, you might’ve grown up with a pretty narrow definition of “doing it”: Penis enters vagina and ejaculates. End scene.

In the real world, sex can be a many-splendored thing. It’s fluid and messy (like the definition!). It’s impossible to completely define.

Here’s an incomplete list of what counts as sex:

  • penis-in-vagina
  • penis-in-anus
  • oral on a penis, vagina, or anus
  • penetration with sex toys
  • sex toy play without penetration
  • hand jobs, fingering, and fisting
  • clitoral play or anal play
  • boob and nipple play
  • making out — kisses and cuddles FTW!
  • dry humping
  • mutual masturbation

So yeah, deciding what “counts” is really up to whoever’s doing the deed.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around the internet about lesbian sex.

Let’s break down the most common misunderstandings.

Myth 1: Lovemaking is easy because you already understand female anatomy. Au contraire! Remember, two people who identify as women don’t necessarily have the same anatomy. But even if you’re both cis women, everyone has different preferences between the sheets. Lesbian or not, every body is different.

Myth 2: Someone’s gotta be “the man.” This is a super narrow way of thinking, TBH. When two women are in a relationship, no one needs to sub in as the dude. Penetrating your partner or being on top doesn’t make you “the man,” just like going down on someone doesn’t make you “submissive.” Some relationships prefer to have a masculine/feminine component, some don’t. You do you.

Myth 3: Strap-ons, always and forever. Strap-ons are faux penises attached to a harness or underwear. Some peeps like ’em, some don’t — just like some people like penetration and some people don’t.

Myth 4: It’s all about the big O. Big nope. Remember how sex can be all the good things? Whether you’re a lesbian or not, it’s OK to stop before you or your partner climaxes. Orgasm doesn’t have to be the end goal. You do you, boo.

Myth 5: It begins and ends with scissoring. Scissoring, otherwise known as tribbing, just means vag-to-vag contact. It’s a tried-and-true lesbian sex method, but it’s certainly not the only one. It’s also not the easiest trick in the book. Some women don’t even find it appealing.

Myth 6: Lesbians can’t get STIs or get preggo. Not so! In one 13-month study of nearly 20,000 LGBT patients, 11 percent of cisgender women and 25 percent of transgender women tested positive for an STI. And of course, if one female-identifying partner has a penis and the other has a vagina, it’s still possible to make a baby. Use protection!

If this is your first dip into the waters of lesbian sex, remember that you can stick to what feels comfortable to you. No matter how you identify or who you want to hop into bed with, it’s normal to feel nervous about your first time.

There are dozens of lesbian-friendly ways to get it on. Communicate what feels good (and what doesn’t!), and stop anytime you want.

Know thyself

According to a 2011 review, taking yourself to O-town is a fantastic way to flood your body with happy hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. Self-pleasure is also the best way to find out what makes you feel good, which could boost your confidence and communication skills when you’re with someone else.

If you and your partner have the same anatomy, masturbating gives you double the pleasure (and double the fun!) since touching yourself helps you learn which strokes might be fun to try on them. Just remember, everybody — even folks with the same parts — is different.

How to get started

Breaking the ice is always tough. But one of our best (dare we say sexiest?) hot tips is super simple: Communicate. Yep, talk it out.

This means you ask for consent. Seriously: Be clear about your intentions. Ask, “Can I take your clothes off?” or “Can we [insert thing you want to try]?”

This also means it’s OK to be honest about your anxieties. It’s your first time? You can be honest. Certain body parts are off-limits? Tell them. This might seem awkward at first, but talking through what you both like and don’t like can also build the anticipation.

And remember, either of you can hit the brakes at any time. If your partner seems uncomfortable but isn’t verbalizing it, ask, “Are you comfortable with this?” or “Should I stop?”

One of the simplest ways to get it on is by stimulating your partner with your hands. Spice it up with different speeds, pressure, surface area, and motions.

If your partner has a vag

  • Stroke or trace circles around or on their clitoris. Experiment with different speeds and pressures.
  • Stroke the skin around their anus.
  • Gently penetrate their anus with your finger.
  • Lightly brush your finger or hand around their clitoris or vagina.
  • Penetrate their vagina with your finger and feel for the G-spot, a slightly rougher patch of tissue.

If your partner has a penis

  • Go for the classic hand job by holding their penis and gliding your hand up and down.
  • Rub their scrotum and the patch between the scrotum and anus (aka the perineum).
  • Stroke or massage the head of their penis.
  • Stroke the skin around their anus.
  • Penetrate their anus with your finger.

Fun with boobs

Some nips are extra-sensitive, so start gently. Ask your partner what feels good and how much pressure is best. Then try one of these moves:

  • Kiss, lick or gently suck their nipples or boobs.
  • Gently rub or pull their nipples with your fingers.
  • Try using sex toys like nipple clamps, feather ticklers, or even vibrators on their nipples.
  • Experiment with temperatures and sensations by applying tingling lube or ice to their nipples.

Your penetration might be as straightforward as penis-in-vagina sex, but that’s not the only way to get down. Many couples branch out to other objects or body parts.

Anal sex

Since your anus doesn’t lube itself like a vagina or penis, this one takes a bit of prep. Grab your favorite lube, make sure your partner’s comfortable moving forward, and start slow.

Experiment with which combo works best for you

  • finger-in-anus
  • penis-in-anus
  • fisting the anus
  • sliding a dildo or vibrator into the anus
  • using an anal plug or another sex toy

Vaginal sex

Any penis-and-vagina partnership requires prep too. Bring along your birth control method or STI protection of choice. No penis? No problem.

You could try…

  • penis-in-vagina
  • finger-in-vagina
  • fisting the vagina
  • using a dildo or vibrator in the vagina

You don’t need to break out the Kama Sutra cards to know there are dozens of sex positions. But why not start with what’s tried-and-true? So #wholesome.

Doggy

For anal or vaginal penetration from behind, one person can get down on all fours with their knees a comfortable distance apart. (If you’re in this position, feel free to bend your arms and drop your head down to rest.)

The other person will kneel behind the first person and slowly penetrate the vagina or anus with fingers, a sex toy, or their penis.

Missionary

The Missionary position gets a bad rap. It’s boring, plain vanilla… you know the drill. But it’s also a solid foundation.

To get hot and heavy in Missionary, the partner with a vagina lies on their back with legs spread while the partner with a penis hovers facedown on top. Sometimes the angle works best when the person on the bottom props up their hips with a pillow or folded blanket.

Oral sex

You can go down on your partner in a variety of positions. One of the easiest is for one person to lie back with open legs. The other person can lie on their belly and begin licking, kissing, or manually rubbing between the first person’s legs.

Regardless of your sex, gender, or orientation, you can transmit and contract sexually transmitted infections (STI). The CDC says there are about 20 million new cases of STIs in the United States each year. Depending on the STI, transmission can occur via the genitals, butt, mouth, or even throat.

Your risk for STIs varies according to the sexual activity you’re engaging in, your and your partner’s history, and whether you use any sort of barrier.

Tips for safer sex

You can drastically lower your risk of STIs and other infections by taking a few precautions:

  • Use a barrier method. Barrier methods — such as dental dams for oral sex and condoms for penetration — work because they reduce or eliminate direct contact between your body and your partner’s. Grab gloves or finger cots if you’re fingering, fisting, or otherwise stimulating with your hands.
  • Keep it clean. As in sanitized. Wash your hands before diving in. Keep your nails clipped if you’re sticking a finger in a sensitive place. Don’t forget to clean your sex toys too. Slide a condom onto your dildos for extra protection.
  • Lubricate. Slathering on lube doesn’t keep STIs away, but it does lower your risk of scratches or tears inside your vagina or anus.
  • Get tested. Yep, this one’s important. Chat with your doctor about how often you should test — and what to test for!

Any time you engage in penis-in-vag activity, you run the risk of babymaking. It’s easy to assume lesbians can’t get knocked up, but that’s true only if both partners are cisgender.

Lesbian partners with a penis and vagina (generally a cisgender woman and a transgender woman) might enjoy penis-in-vagina sex. That means pregnancy might be possible.

If you’re not sure, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Talk with your partner about your histories and potential for pregnancy. You can always use your preferred birth control method just in case.

If you’re wondering how lesbians have sex, the answer might be more complicated than you think. It’s important to understand that two female-identifying partners might not have the same anatomy. And there are a lot of activities that could count as sex.

While you might be anxious about having sex for the first time, there are plenty of resources to guide you. And when it comes time to get it on with your partner, the most important thing to do is communicate clearly and honestly.

If you still have questions about lesbian sex, reach out to an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor or clinic.