Lesbian Health

lesbians

A lesbian is a young or adult woman who is sexually or romantically attracted to other girls.. The word “lesbian” is a term that some young women use to describe themselves and understand their sexual orientation. However, some young women prefer to use other identity labels such as “gay”, “bisexual”, or “queer”, and some prefer not to use a label at all.

How do I know if I’m a lesbian?

Having sexual experiences with another girl does not necessarily mean you are a lesbian; nor does having a “crush” on a girl. Many lesbian and gay people have had sexual experiences with someone of a different gender, just as many straight people have had experiences with someone of the same  gender. It’s okay to be unsure of your sexual orientation, and its okay to take your time in finding out. Your sexual orientation will develop and may change over time. What’s most important is that you listen to your feelings–you don’t need to label yourself.

What does it mean to be bisexual?

“Bisexual” is a term used to describe people who have sexual and romantic feelings for more than one gender. Someone who is bisexual can be more attracted to one gender than another, or they can be equally attracted to multiple genders. Some gay and lesbian people (when they first acknowledge their own feelings) may say that they are bisexual, and later describe themselves as a gay man or a lesbian. However, there are also a lot of people who are attracted to more than one gender and have a bisexual identity that doesn’t change.

If I’m not having sex with men, why do I need to see a gynecologist?

It’s a common but completely untrue belief that lesbians don’t need gynecologic care. Many lesbians feel like they’re at a low risk for getting STIs because they’re not having sex with men. Routine physicals, Pap tests, and (if you’re sexually active with men, women, or more than one gender) STI counseling and testing are very important. Don’t assume that just because you’re in a relationship with a girl that you’re not at risk. Continue to see a gynecologist for check-ups.

Why am I at risk for STIs if I only have sex with women?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections that are typically passed through sexual, and sometimes nonsexual, contact with an infected person. Anyone can become infected. STIs can be passed from girl to girl even if neither one has ever had sex with a man. STIs are spread through contact with infected body fluids, such as blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, semen, and discharge from a sore caused by an STI. They can also be spread through contact with infected skin or mucous membranes (for example, vaginas and mouths), and through vaginal, anal, or oral sex and with sex toys. Regardless of who you are having sex with, it’s important to always practice safe sex to lower your chances of getting an STI.

How do I lower my risk of getting an STI?

There are ways to be close to another girl that lowers your chances of getting an STI. Some ways to connect and have safe sex include: hugging, (dry) kissing, masturbation/mutual masturbation, and giving each other a massage. If you’re going to be in contact with your partner’s vaginal fluids, be sure to protect yourself by using an oral barrier, such as a “dental dam”. Oral barriers are protective materials made of latex or very thin plastic. They’re used to cover a part of the body and prevent contact with body fluids that could be infected with an STI.

Ways to lower your risk of getting an STI:

  • Use an oral barrier such as a dental dam, or cut a condom or latex glove into a square piece. Hold the square piece of latex firmly with your fingers and stretch it over your partner’s vulva (the area around her vaginal opening) to prevent direct contact with bodily fluids. If you aren’t sure about where you can find dental dams, ask your health care provider.
  • Latex gloves, condoms, or finger sheaths can protect against transmission of STIs through sores or cuts/hangnails on fingers when having finger play or digital penetration (putting your finger in your partner’s vagina or anus) and condoms can be placed on sex toys. It is important to change the condom when using the sex toy in different body areas such as the vagina and anus, and when sharing a sex toy with your partner.

How can I find a primary health care provider (PCP) who will help and support me?

In order for your PCP to provide the best care, it’s important that he or she know about the people and issues in your life. You should feel safe and comfortable enough with your PCP to be completely honest about your sexual orientation, and to ask any questions that you may have. You may feel comfortable speaking to your current PCP about your sexual orientation, or you may want to look for a new provider. Finding a PCP with whom you can talk honestly and ask questions openly is an important way to get the support you need and deserve.

You can:

  • Ask trusted family members and friends for recommendations.
  • Meet with a few different health care providers to see who you’re the most comfortable with.
  • Look at online databases such as the GLMA Physician Reference Programto find a PCP in your area who has experience treating gay/lesbian teens and is aware of their needs..
Finding a PCP with whom you can talk honestly and ask questions openly is an important way to get the support you need and deserve.

Where can I go for support and more information?

There are many people who are willing to help and support you. If you haven’t had the chance to talk about your sexual or romantic feelings with anyone, think about a person with whom you feel comfortable and can trust. It’s possible that not everyone you meet will be accepting of your sexual orientation, and you may face some prejudice and discrimination. Trust your own feelings about who to reach out to for support. It’s important to use your own instincts and judgment. The person that you choose to talk with could be a:

  • Parent/guardian
  • Health care provider
  • Family member
  • School counselor
  • Trusted friend
  • Teacher
  • Clergy member

Sharing your feelings with someone who is willing to listen is very important. If there’s no one in your life that you can trust, there are plenty of resources available that will tell you where you can go to meet people and talk about your feelings.

Gay/Straight Alliances : Many schools have GSAs, sometimes called Gender/Sexuality Associations and Gay/Straight Alliances, GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) networks or other groups where you’ll be able to meet students and teachers willing to listen and share their own experiences. GSAs and GLBT networks are also support groups that work to help reduce anti-gay violence, bullying, harassment, and discrimination. They do this by providing information about homophobia (fear and prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people) to the school community and by encouraging open and honest discussions to increase understanding within the school. These groups are usually led by students (with teachers acting as advisors) and are open to all students. If your school doesn’t have a GSA, you may want to talk to a trusted teacher about the possibility of starting one. Organizations such as GLSEN and the GSA Network (https://gsanetwork.org/) can be great resources and provide you with information on how to start a GSA in your school.

Guidance Counselors: Consider talking to a guidance or health counselor at your school and asking him or her for information about resources in your area.

Other Resources: Search online for organizations and/or groups where you can meet and find support from other LGB teens. Be sure to look for groups that are organized by trained counselors. Although it may be tempting to meet with someone you’ve talked to and perhaps connected with online, it can be very dangerous. There’s no way to know for sure if someone is telling the truth online.

What should I tell my parents and other family members?

Coming out (telling other people about your sexual orientation) to your family can be very scary and is an incredibly brave thing to do. Make sure you’re ready. Not everyone may be willing to accept your sexual orientation at first. However, hiding it keeps the people who are closest to you from knowing an important part of who you are. This can make you feel lonely and isolated. Take your time to decide if and when you want to come out. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to tell people until you’re ready. Some LGB teens say that after they came out, they became much closer to their families-that it was a relief not to be keeping a secret any longer. However, some teens know that their parents or other family members aren’t ready to hear about their sexual orientation and worry about being treated unfairly. Be as open and honest with your parents/guardians as you feel comfortable being.

If you do choose to come out to your parents and other family members, it’s important to have a support system (of trusted friends and adults such as a teacher or counselor) in place. Some teens find it helpful to practice what they’re going to say when coming out to family. Others find it helpful to write letters explaining their sexual orientation followed by a face-to-face conversation. Sometimes, young women are surprised to find out that their parents sensed they were LGB all along. If you decide to come out to your family, it’s a good idea have plans to connect with your support team afterwards to discuss their reactions.  If your family members need support after you come out to them, you can direct them to a local PFLAG chapter (https://pflag.org/).

What should I tell my friends?

It’s normal to want to be accepted for who you are by your friends and other peer groups. It’s also true that it’s sometimes difficult to feel like you “fit in” at school, regardless of your sexual orientation. What helps is to try and surround yourself with friends whom you know are accepting of your sexual orientation. Some of your friends may already know, but others may be surprised. Being honest and open will go a long way in communicating with your friends.

Research studies have shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual women are at significantly higher risk of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and self-harm because of stress related to non-acceptance by family members, peers and friends. Please remember that you are not alone. There are 24-hour hotlines and online chats available to answer questions, give you information, and just listen to your thoughts and concerns.

Hotlines:

It can be very difficult and it takes courage to come out as a bisexual or a lesbian. Take your time, trust your feelings, and never be afraid to reach out and ask for help and support.

Additional Resources