The quality of lesbian health is directly related to the overall quality of a lesbian’s life: her self acceptance and how out she is, her acceptance by her family and the greater community, laws that guarantee her rights, and the knowledge and sensitivity of her healthcare system. Ideally, lesbian health would be no different than that of heterosexual women.
Probably due to the greater stressors in her life, a lesbian is twice as likely to be a heavy smoker than her heterosexual sister, somewhat more likely to be obese, and more likely to be a problem drinker. However, in the past twenty years, all of these unhealthy lifestyle problems that impact lesbian health have lessened and probably reflect the greater level of “outness,” more legal rights, and greater social acceptance.
There is still a ways to go and lesbians have higher levels of anxiety and depression due to:
– Social stigma
– Rejection by family member
– Abuse and violence
– Being treated unfairly by the legal system
– Hiding some or all aspects of one’s life
– Lack of health insurance
Lesbians are less likely to get Pap smears because they and many doctors hold the mistaken belief that lesbians don’t get cervical cancer. Lesbians are just as likely as heterosexual women to get the virus for genital warts, the precursor to cervical cancer. In addition, many butch women are loath to have pelvic examinations and require doctors who are sensitive to their needs.
Unless she uses contaminated needles or has sex with men, a lesbian is at low risk for HIV. However, she can get all the other sexually transmitted infections that the heterosexual woman is prey to.
Possibly because she is less likely to have had children a lesbian may be at greater risk for uterine, breast, cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. She is also more likely to have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome with higher levels of androgens and irregular or no menstrual cycles. She also seems to have a greater chance of getting BV (bacterial vaginosis), an infection of the vagina that can cause abnormal discharge, odor, or itching. This is not to be confused with yeast infection.
Lesbian health is impacted by fewer lesbians having health insurance, which results in late treatment or no treatment for many conditions. A lesbian also is often afraid of a negative reaction if she discloses to a doctor and finds it difficult to find one who is knowledgeable about and sensitive to lesbian health risks of lesbian health care needs. The web site listed below has a referral service to good doctors.
Legal rights, social, family, and self acceptance all positively affect lesbian health.