By Barrett White
Though lesbian women have largely the same health concerns as their heterosexual counterparts, there are notable differences in the communities which often go overlooked in mainstream health care.
In many ways, lesbian women have the same healthcare needs as any woman, regardless of sexuality; however, unlike straight women, they are at higher risk for obesity, certain cancers, substance use or abuse, and depression. Also, issues relevant to all women, such as intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) may affect lesbian women differently. These differences in health care are maintained by social stigma and discrimination, which can inhibit a woman’s access to health care.
Dr. Vandana Shrikanth, a primary care physician at Legacy Montrose, says that the most common issue among lesbian patients is adherence to appointments, or even scheduling them in the first place.
“If you don’t feel safe or empowered in a certain space, you’re less likely to make that appointment,” she says, adding that many lesbian patients she has treated have expressed distrust with medicine if clinic staff aren’t inclusive. This is true across the LGBTQ+ community, but especially prevalent among gender diverse individuals and lesbians, Dr. Shrikanth has observed.
While there is much literature online about the health of gay men and heterosexual men and women, there is not much to be found on the specific health concerns of lesbians. In fact, Ruth Hunt, chief executive at Stonewall, a UK-based LGBTQ health empowerment network, started a Twitter conversation that prompted hundreds of lesbian women to share their health care woes on the social platform. Legacy Montrose, a clinic that is grounded in the LGBTQ community, and providers like Dr. Shrikanth, are trying to change that narrative of care.
Getting lesbian-identifying individuals into care isn’t enough, though. For providers with lesbian patients, it’s crucial to understand the needs and risks of the community, and to properly screen for them – as providers do for any other community.
A common misconception among lesbians however, is that HPV screenings are deemed unnecessary due to the lack of male partners. This is dangerous, Dr. Shrikanth says, because HPV, if left undiagnosed and unaddressed, can lead to cervical cancer in the long term. And while lesbians – generally – are at a lower risk of certain illnesses such as HIV, other concerns that see higher prevalence in the lesbian community include hepatitis C and bacterial vaginosis. “This could be due to sharing toys among sexual partners without properly cleaning them,” Dr. Shrikanth says. “It’s always best practice to remember that regular STI screening is a responsible safe-sex practice, regardless of sexual preference.”
Legacy pledges to acknowledge and affirm all patients who pass through our doors, judgement free. To schedule an appointment for adult primary care or STI testing, please visit our website.