Lesbian health

Often, people wrongly assume that women cannot get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or HIV from other women, which is not the case. What is the likelihood of transmission of STIs or HIV from one female to another? Do lesbians really need to worry about safer sex?

Let's start with the basics. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control, documented cases of female-to-female transmission of HIV appears to be a rare occurrence. The CDC reports there are case reports of female-to-female transmission of HIV, but it does not specify how many. As CDC states: "The well documented risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV shows that vaginal secretions and menstrual blood may contain the virus and that mucous membrane (e.g., oral, vaginal) exposure to these secretions has the potential to lead to HIV infection."

However, women may be at risk if they:

Any sexual activity that can lead to bleeding or cuts/breaks in the lining of vagina or anus is risky and can lead to STIs.

Finding a Provider

Many doctors, nurses, and other health care providers have not had sufficient training to understand the specific health experiences of lesbians, or that women who are lesbians, like heterosexual women, can be healthy normal females. Look for a provider who is trained and sensitive your needs. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association offers a directory of healthcare professionals that are LGBT welcoming.

Taking Care of Your Health

Practice safer sex

Ask your healthcare provider to test you, and your partner, for STD/STIs before starting a new relationship. If you’re unsure about a partner’s status, practice methods to reduce the likelihood of sharing vaginal fluid or blood, including condoms on sex toys.

Exercise

Research confirms that lesbians have higher body mass than heterosexual women. Obesity is associated with higher rates of heart disease, cancers of the uterus, ovary, breast, and colon, and premature death. What lesbians need is competent advice about healthy living and healthy eating, as well as healthy exercise. Try to get 30 minutes of activity every day. Find different things you like and mix it up to keep at it.

Smoking

Lesbians are more likely to smoke, compared to heterosexual women. Studies have also found that smoking rates are higher among gay and lesbian adolescents compared to the general population. If you smoke, try to quit, or look in your community for support in quitting. Smoking can lead to heart disease and multiple cancers, including cancers of the lung, throat, stomach, colon, and cervix.

Depression and anxiety

Studies show that lesbian and bisexual women report higher rates of depression and anxiety than heterosexual women do. Lesbians often feel they have to conceal their lesbian status to family, friends, and employers. Lesbians can also be victims of hate crimes and violence. Despite strides in our larger society, discrimination against lesbians does exist, and discrimination for any reason may lead to depression and anxiety.

Alcohol and drug abuse

Lesbians use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs for the same reasons as others, but their likelihood for doing so is heightened by personal and cultural stresses resulting from anti-gay bias. If you drink alcohol, don’t have more than one drink per day. Too much alcohol raises blood pressure and can raise your risk for stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis, many cancers, and other problems.

Domestic violence

Also called intimate partner violence, this is when one person purposely causes either physical or mental harm to another. Domestic violence can occur in lesbian relationships as it does in heterosexual relationships. Call the police or leave if you or your children are in danger! Call a crisis hotline or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE or TDD 800-787-3224, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in English, Spanish, and other languages.