Too often, “women’s health” means “straight women’s health,” and queer ladies are left in the dust. But bisexual and lesbian sexual health shouldn’t be a footnote, because all women — and, in particular, all young women — need to be educated about how various sexual health issues affect them.
As a teen, I was super jealous of my friends who identified as lesbians and would proudly declare they could never get STIs because they only slept with women. Today, there’s a bit more information out on the subject, and, unfortunately, no one is immune to sexually transmitted infections. A study published in Reuters Health found that 1 in 4 women who sleep with women will contract at least one STI in their lives, and another study found that bisexual and lesbian women are more likely to have bacterial vaginosis — although scientists have yet to figure out exactly why this is the case.
Basically, we need to talk about women’s health more inclusively to encompass the variety of lived experiences that fall under the “woman” umbrella, and particularly those lived experiences that come with an added dose of social stigma. Here are five scientifically-sourced facts about lesbian and bisexual women’s sexual health, because it needs to be discussed just as often as straight women’s health is.
1. Lesbian Teens Don’t Receive Adequate Sex Ed
A recent study by the University of British Columbia found that one in five teens who identify as lesbian reported recently having sex with a male partner, but only 32 percent of them discussed using condoms with their partner, compared with 62 percent of bisexual girls and 73 percent of straight girls. This data suggests there needs to be more discussions of sexual fluidity and sexual health so young women know their options for protection, however they identify.
2. Many Bisexuals Don’t Feel Comfortable Talking To Their Doctor About Their Sexuality
A UK study surveyed 513 bisexual people, and found that 42 percent felt pressure “to pass as gay or lesbian when accessing [health] services.” In addition, the study also found that 28 percent of bisexual people don’t feel comfortable talking to their doctors about their sexual health.
3. Dental Dam Use Isn’t Universally High
Although the dental dam is the vagina’s best equivalent to the condom and can prevent a host of infections, one study of 543 Australian lesbians found that only 9.7 percent had used a dental dam during oral sex with a partner in the past six months, and only 2.1 percent had used one, “often.”
4. Bisexual Women Report Lower Health
A study conducted by Rice University published last year found that bisexuals self-reported lower health levels than both gay or straight people. 18.5 percent of bisexual women rated their health as either “poor or fair,” while 10.6 percent of lesbian women said the same.
5. HIV Transmission Between Women Is Likely Possible
Although according to the CDC, there are no reported cases of HIV transmission between women, there are some reports of it occurring, and The Advocate cites the CDC’s suggestion that “torn tissues, menstrual blood, and vaginal secretions” are possible ways to transmit infection from woman to woman.