LESBIAN HEALTH ISSUES
accurate information about health and sensitive health care
can be a challenge for women who identify as lesbian or
are relatively few studies of womenís health that
specifically identify lesbian women and fewer still that ask
questions relative to lesbian health. A review of the studies which do exist generally shows that
any differences in the prevalence of certain diseases is due
to the numbers of women who have certain risk factors such
as obesity, nulliparity (never having had a child), or
increased alcohol or tobacco use. Simply identifying as a lesbian is neither a disease nor a
far the greatest impact on lesbian health is the tendency
for lesbian women to avoid seeking help or not returning for
follow-up due to discomfort with the medical system (See
Coming out to your Doctor fact sheet).
For example, women who arenít comfortable with
their doctors and who donít have children may have a
tendency to get fewer pelvic examinations resulting in a
higher risk of undetected cervical conditions and cancers.
being a lesbian or bisexual woman is neither a disease nor a
risk factor, there are certain issues women who love women
should be knowledgeable about to take care of their health.
Lesbians are less likely to give birth by age 30 and
this increases risk. So
does increased body weight and alcohol use.
Control what you can and be sure to have regular
doctorís visits and practice breast self-exam.
It is not known whether lesbians have increased risk. Lesbian women may have less risk of acquiring HPV (a virus
that is a risk factor in cervical cancer) if they have less
sexual intercourse with men.
However many lesbian and bisexual women do or have
had sexual intercourse with men and HPV can be transmitted
between women during sex.
Having regular pelvic exams and Pap tests is crucial
to monitoring cervical health.
It is a commonly held misconception that lesbian and
bisexual women have little or no risk for sexually
transmitted diseases. The
risk varies according to the disease but transmission is
example, Herpes, HPV (the virus that causes genital warts),
and bacterial vaginosis are transmitted fairly easily
between women. HIV,
hepatitis B, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are much less likely
to be transmitted but transmission is possible.
Always know your partnerís sexual history and
practice safer sex.
Heart Disease and Stroke.
Obesity and smoking are two well-known risk factors
for heart disease and stroke. Lesbian women have been
documented as weighing more and desiring a significantly
heavier ideal body weight than heterosexual women have.
Lesbian and bisexual women who fit these risk
categories should seek help or work to control their risk
and have regular medical check-ups.
Exposure to public hate violence, whether direct or
indirect, can cause emotional and psychological injury.
Conditions such as phobias, post-traumatic stress
disorders, eating disorders, chronic pain syndromes and
especially depression can result from the experience of
violence. If a
woman is experiencing any of these symptoms or has
experienced violence, getting safe, supportive medical or
psychological care from someone with whom you can be
completely frank is of the utmost importance.
is important to note that domestic violence, either verbal
or physical, can occur in woman to woman relationships.
Seeking help for such violence is critical but often
difficult. In Coming
Out To Your Doctor we discuss how to find sensitive
practitioners are beginning to recognize the major impact
that violence has on the lives of their patients.
Your doctor needs to be aware that this is an issue
in your life and may be able to direct you toward resources
for additional help.
it deserves repeating that by far the largest factor in
determining the health of lesbian and bisexual women is the
tendency to avoid regular health check-ups either because
women think they donít need them or because they are
uncomfortable with the medical help they have received.
Finding medical help that you can trust and be
completely open with is a critical factor in maintaining
good health. This
fact sheet gives examples of issues to be aware of but is
not exhaustive and is not intended as a substitute for
expert medical care. The
Project is providing this important fact sheet because it
recognizes that education about womenís health must
include understanding the health needs of lesbian and
bisexual women. Please
consider these issues carefully and work to make the best
possible health choices for yourself.
Kate, M.D., Lesbian Health and Homophobia:
Perspectives for the treating Obstetrician/Gynecologist. [http://www.ohanlan.com/lhr.htm].