Sexual Health Week – Bi Women & Lesbians

Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Sexual Health; why it’s often disregarded and seen as unimportant?

There almost feels like there isn’t a definitive answer maybe because the question is not asked or discussed enough on a wider scale.

Maybe because L, B and T women are not used to hearing /seeing sexual health messages aimed at them enough from school age right through to adulthood, maybe we as a community just don’t think it’s important?

Women’s sexuality and sexual health in general terms still seems to be portrayed as being either very black and white or confusing, mysterious, unchartered even, maybe this is because women are more fluid in their approach to their sexual identity and so much can influence and make up this identity –  life factors, age, cultural identity, ethnicity, menopause, levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone even.

So where are the media campaigns? the instantly recognisable brands that are associated with women’s sexual health? Do we see ourselves well represented in mainstream media…in a normalised matter of fact way? I just don’t see it enough if at all and when I do it almost feels like it’s for novelty value.

There are some fantastic guides and reports around if you know where to look, they’re there not in great numbers but no less valuable in their content (bit like gold-panning) the below are a few links to a cross section of information specifically for women

LGBT Foundation’s “Beating about the Bush”

http://lgbt.foundation/get-support/downloads/detail/?downloadid=91

NHS sexual health advice for Lesbian and Bisexual

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/LGBhealth/Pages/lesbianhealth.aspx

Averts HIV advice for WSW

https://www.avert.org/sites/default/files/fact-sheet-hiv-women-who-have-sex-women-2016.pdf

Dental Dam guide

http://www.thesite.org/sex-and-relationships/safer-sex/dental-dams-4562.html

Fantastically honest guide top safe sex for women

http://www.autostraddle.com/safe-sex-for-lesbians-45382/

University of Sydney – 2016 article challenging urban myth that lesbian women don’t need PAP tests (cervical screening test)

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jan/22/urban-myth-that-lesbian-women-dont-need-pap-smears-is-a-health-risk-study

A guide to vaginal health

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/vagina-health/Pages/vagina-health.aspx

Knowledge around sexual health services for L B and T women

Spending time consulting and talking to women about their experiences of sexual health services, when asked about the barriers to accessing sexual health services I was surprised by a lot of women sharing they didn’t feel there were any barriers as such rather a presumption of what might happen, or first-encounter poor experiences ranging from presumptions being made about sexuality and the types of services women did/didn’t want. Another barrier identified was a general lack of understanding and information for L, B and T women either from staff or in literature form out in the wider community.

 

A little breakdown

I hear a lot of mixed feedback from women about their experiences while some have never accessed sexual health services for a number of reasons;

  • Embarrassment
  • Perceived idea of what it might be like
  • Hearing of others poor treatment
  • Fear of judgment

Other women have shared that have never thought they needed to because they were “only ever in monogamous relationships” “Gold star” “always use protection” “don’t sleep around” etc.

Some women have had great experiences, their feedback being

  • the attitude of staff helped
  • a respectful service was offered
  • no presumptions were made
  • staff were lovely and made me feel comfortable
  • comfortable and very friendly
  • non-judgmental
  • helpful and good advice
  • P was open-minded and sensitive
  • very reassuring

Some of the more negative experienced women had had they spoke to me about a feeling awkwardness services being to “Impersonal” or “Too focused on heterosexual sex” to just feeling that their sexuality meant that they felt “very dismissed” or “misunderstood” (especially for Bisexual women) “offered the wrong type of service” or even feeling like they had to “come out” again.