Lesbians have complained about the lack of awareness and sensitivity of their health care providers, resulting in unnecessary examinations and inappropriate focus on reproductive issues. This study attempted to identify psychosocial and health care needs of lesbians, to assess relationships with primary care providers and disclosure of sexual orientation, and to describe the chronologic features of a sexual identity and lifestyle. An anonymous, self-administered, written questionnaire was distributed through a campus lesbian organization. Fifty-three women (median age 23 years) completed the questionnaire. Whereas 60% had disclosed their sexual orientation to their parents, only 31% had 'come out' to their health care provider. Of participants who had disclosed their sexual preference to a provider, 27% reported a negative effect on their health care, 57% of participants who never had penile intercourse had annual Papanicolaou smears, and 16% felt pressured in the past to accept birth control from a physician. Lesbian sexuality was associated with several risk factors, such as childhood abuse (20%), alcohol or drug problems (39%), suicide attempts (27%), depression (49%), and physical or verbal abuse at school (34%). Average age of awareness of sexual orientation was 15 years, and average age of first homosexual activity was 17 years. Lesbians are at risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide attempts. Although most would like to confide in their physician, few do because of fears of negative reactions. Communication must be improved to better address their specific health care needs.
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