Young gay and bisexual women not monitoring their sexual health
Lesbian and bisexual women are not paying enough attention to their sexual health, finds a new study, putting them at higher risk for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Researchers say women can spread the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer, shown by studies, but many health care practitioners lack awareness of what constitutes sex between women and the risks they face to sexual health.
Heterosexual women getting more Pap smears than gay, bisexual
Compared to their heterosexual counterparts, gay and bisexual women are less likely to get Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, according to surveys conducted in 2005 that included 4,224 females ages 17 to 25.
Lead study author Brittany Charlton, a graduate student in epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health said, young gay and bisexual women surveyed “report having sex at a younger age and with more people”, raising concerns that they are at higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
The authors point out the young women who are not heterosexual have likely still had sex at least once with a male partner, based on past studies showing 75 percent of sexually active lesbian adolescents have had sex with a man.
They authors also note women can spread STD’s to each other, though the risks are lower compared to women who have sex with men.
Devika Singh, M.D., a fellow at the University of Washington says, “There continues to be a lack of general awareness on the part of many health care providers on what defines sex between women and what risks may be associated with sexual practices between women.”
In the surveys, one percent of the women were lesbian and less likely to have had a cervical cancer screening in the past year compared to heterosexual women.
Bisexual women had a higher incidence of having been previously diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease, compared to heterosexual and gay women.
Why aren’t lesbian and bisexual women paying attention?
The study authors say it’s not that young women who are gay or bisexual are opposed to sexual health screening exams – it’s just that they might think they’re not at risk for diseases.
Another possibility is that they feel uncomfortable talking to health care providers about their sex lives.
Susan Cochran, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA who studies sexual orientation and health said, “Health care for young women is organized around reproductive assumptions. Young women seek gynecologic care primarily to obtain birth control. If they don’t believe they need birth control, then one push toward getting care is removed.”
The authors say health care providers need to screen young women for STD’s and cervical cancer, regardless of their sexual orientation. Dr. Singh says young women should find a health care provider they trust and are comfortable with and have a checkup.
The survey showed 70 percent of young lesbian women had received a Pap smear in the previous year, compared to 88 percent of heterosexual women. The findings overall showed young lesbian and bisexual women are not keeping up with their sexual health screenings.
Journal of Adolescent Health: doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.03.013
"Reproductive Health Screening Disparities and Sexual Orientation
in a Cohort Study of U.S. Adolescent and Young Adult Females"
Brittany M. Charlton et al