It's funny to think that simply being a lesbian might mean you have special health needs or are apt to ignore certain aspect of both sexual health and health in general but this is a fact of life.
3% to 10% of women are gay or bisexual and do have other health concerns, compared with solely straight women.
One immediate and serious concern is that many lesbian women lack the health insurance that straight women are afforded through their spouses, and they are often less able to afford regular health check ups due to escalating health care costs.
Gay women have been subjected to discrimination, family ostracism, name-calling, labeling and even physical violence, and this can increase low self- esteem and self-worth, ending with a propensity to self-medicate by smoking, drinking or taking drugs to ease the stress. Of course, none of this is to say that every lesbian is beaten up or is a drug-taker - but research shows it to be more likely with gay women because of the particular discrimination they face, as opposed to straight women.
Lesbian women are less likely to have regular PAP tests. The HPV virus is spread via skin to skin contact and can be transmitted woman to woman. Many gay women have also had sexual contact with men, particularly in early adulthood, and are at risk for this virus, as well as many other STDs and STIs.
While gay women do bear children, most tend not to, rather they remain child-free, adopt, or become step-parents to the children of their partners. Bearing children benefits many women who see slightly lower instances of certain cancers like breast and ovarian, due to the hormones released during pregnancy and nursing.
Many lesbians have suffered depression, much of it untreated, due to family reactions to coming out, or alienation from their friends and community in general. Health care providers need to be aware of their patients sexual orientation due to this, and many other special circumstances that gay women experience.
Domestic violence is not just men abusing women. Women are also abused by their female partners. Health care providers and law enforcement must be more cognizant of this.
Lesbians may feel like they may be judged rather harshly by medical personnel and may keep their orientation private - if you feel more comfortable going to a 'gay-friendly' health care provider, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association has a detailed list of providers who are especially knowledgeable and receptive to your needs. You can find their database of members at www.glma.org/programs/prp/index.shtml
or call them them at (415) 255-4547.
For in-depth information regarding lesbian health, click to the University of California's Lesbian Health Care Center here : http://www.lesbianhealthinfo.org/
March 6-9th 2009 is the National Lesbian Health Summit! Click here for more info : http://www.lesbianhealthinfo.org/NationalLesbianHealthSummit/index.html
Are you - or someone you know - a gay women and feel less serviced by health care providers than your straight peers? What would you like to see changed?