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”
NHS sexual health advice for Lesbian and Bisexual
Averts HIV advice for WSW
Dental Dam guide
Fantastically honest guide top safe sex for women
University of Sydney – 2016 article challenging urban myth that lesbian women don’t need PAP tests (cervical screening test)
A guide to vaginal health
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;
- 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
- 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.
In the run up to the Well woman clinic opening early 2017 L B & T women can access our Thursday drop-in Umbrella clinic and I’m really encouraged to see that the attendance of women is increasing, I couldn’t help but be slightly elated to see at one point, during one of our recent drop in clinics the waiting room only had women in it and their feedback of the service they received was very positive.
I am very hopeful that the more we keep sending out the message that women’s wellbeing should very much incorporate their sexual health and keep encouraging dialogue within the LGBT community we can change messages of old, that focused very much on HIV prevention amongst a certain demographic of the LGBT community and L, B and T women will be able to access quality sexual health services to that feel just as normal as going to the opticians or dentist etc.
I would like to hear from Women who may like to use a Well Woman sexual health services or would be in support of such a provision to help us shape how we offer it.
Please help us to do this by completing this short survey, Thank you.
Andrea Willinger – Lesbian and Bi Women’s Sexual Health Outreach Worker, Birmingham LGBT