ABC’s of LGBT – Challenges facing lesbians in mental and physical health
Life has many challenges depending on any number of factors, including sexual orientation, gender identity and physical differences. Learning about these issues can build empathy and enhance knowledge critical for mental health professionals and the general population alike. Those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed and asexual (LGBTIA) communities will mentally benefit most of all from increased societal acceptance and enfranchisement.
Lesbians or gay women can experience at least two forms of discrimination in sexism and homophobia, not to mention the extra difficulties in disadvantaged racial and economic circles.
One particular challenge is disparities in physical health. Lesbians deal with higher levels of stress compared to their heterosexual counterparts, leading to higher rates of smoking and obesity. These factors contribute to heart disease, already a great threat to women in general.
The second highest killer of women is cancer, a danger compounded in gay women as this demographic is more likely to not only attend fewer medical check-ups (particularly ones involving pap tests) but have their risk factors for this set of disease downplayed by physicians.
Pap tests are designed to detect sexually transmitted diseases, particularly those that could lead to cervical cancers. The tendency to downplay the importance of pap smears among the lesbian community lies in both patients and doctors falsely believing STDs cannot spread between women having sex with other women. While risk of certain STDs are lower in the lesbian population, it’s still a problem for women who are untested and, therefore, unsafe.
Underestimation of problems facing lesbian women goes beyond the doctor’s office. Research into domestic violence involving same-sex couples overall is lacking, but Suzana Rose, Ph.D., from the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center actually finds abuse in lesbian couples occurring just as frequently as heterosexual couples.
Dr. Rose points out two major differences between the two groups, however. One, the more “masculine” partner (in other words, the physically stronger person) in a same-sex relationship is just as likely the victim as the batterer while heterosexual couples are more likely to have the male as the abuser.
The second difference Dr. Rose emphasizes lies in a culture of homophobia still rampant in the United States and elsewhere. As such, the abuser can threaten the other female with “outing” her, or revealing a person’s sexual orientation to those who are unaware. Dr. Rose also says battered women’s shelters and other victim services are less likely to assist the abused in these kinds of relationships.
Sovereign Health Group knows the impact of trauma, whether it’s due to domestic violence or discrimination. Our mental health professionals work to understand the effects of discrimination in patients as well. Find mental health refuge today by calling 866-754-3385.
Written by Nicholas Ruiz, Sovereign Health Group writer