All women have specific healthcare needs, but lesbians are at higher risk for certain health conditions than other woman. Every April 26th marks Lesbian Visibility Day, and to honor this day we have an overview of the importance of lesbian health and resources for healthful living.
In the late 1990’s, the National Institute of Medicine reported lesbians were underserved in the U.S. healthcare system. The subsequent years followed with minimal funding, despite few programs that supported the needs for lesbians to obtain proper care.
In 2009, the Office of Research on Women’s Health conducted four town hall meetings, including one in San Francisco. They concluded that the priorities for lesbian health research included depression, quality of life, internalized homophobia, hate crimes, resilience, aging, alcohol abuse, weight management, coming out process, intimate partner violence, smoking cessation, parenting, cancer, youth, and social support. While certain chronic diseases are higher among lesbians, a general lack of healthcare access and utilization among lesbians has reduced the effect of patient education.
Over the last few years, cervical cancer is on the rise. Lesbians are less likely to get routine screenings like Pap tests and mammograms because of negative experiences with healthcare providers in the past. These experiences include providers continuing to recommend birth control to patients even though they do not have sex with men, or exhibiting bias toward lesbian patients. There is also a common myth among lesbians that HPV and other infections are not easily sexually transmitted between women, which leads to lesbians not advocating for their own Pap screenings.
Obesity rates are higher among lesbians compared to heterosexual women, as are rates of anxiety and depression. Returning to a physician that has minimal understanding of the ways to diagnose and treat lesbians can decrease follow up visits or disclosure of health issues.
To better serve the lesbian community and professionals that provide care, we’ve created a list of national education and health resources.
To learn more about lesbian health, either as a provider or as a patient, check out some of the resources below:
- Top Ten Things Lesbians Should Discuss with their Healthcare Providers – This guide by GLMA serves as an easy starting point to discuss relevant lesbian health issues.
- Lesbian Health Fact Sheet (PDF) – Healthy People 2020 developed this quick-reference guide to lesbian health disparities, complete with data.
- Tutorial: Make a dental dam out of a condom – Dental dams are frequently talked about to promote safe sex between women, but they’re often hard to find. Luckily, this UNC tutorial will help you make your own out of a condom!
- Lesbian Health Specialty Clinics – While these clinics are often in urban areas, they serve as great examples of community-based health interventions.
Improving OUTcomes coordinator and co-editor of the Improving OUTcomes website and blog
Paul David Terry, MNA
Co-editor of the Improving OUTcomes website and blog
Edward J. Callahan, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Family and Community Medicine
Chair, Vice Chancellor’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Council