Almost all lesbians are born female (but not all, open your minds here) and will therefore suffer all the maladies that all women suffer from. The particular health risks for lesbians are almost all behavior related. Lesbians in general have a higher risk of obesity, more likely to smoke and more likely to drink alcohol to excess than their straight sisters in the same age categories. Frightening image…big fat dyke, drunk as a skunk, puffing away, hacking and coughing….say it isn’t so!
There are also myths circulating around lesbian land, (hey, I remember when there actually was lesbian land) that if you don’t have sex with men you don’t need to have a mammogram or GYN exams. Wrong! Not having sex with men will not prevent cancer from invading your breasts, uterus, vagina, or ovaries. Get real here! Research showed that lesbians have an increased risk of breast cancer because they have not been pregnant (nuns too!). So, be sure to schedule annual exams and contact the Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer if you need some information. http://www.whitman-walker.org/service/community-health/mautner-project/
The younger generation of lesbians seem to be breeding like rabbits, mindfully reducing their risk of breast cancer in old age. But in the Gilda Radner School of Philosophy, it’s always something! By the time the young lesbians of today get old, there will be something else that will get them.
Access to health care
This may actually be the biggest risk of all. Many lesbians work at low paying jobs that may not offer health care benefits. It is a little better with Obamacare but it is still not the perfect answer. Times are changing too in obtaining health benefits for partners, once a no no, but improving. The Supreme Court ruling on marriage and all of its benefits may take some time to trickle down into actual benefits.
Sexual health risks
There are some health risks associated with lesbian sex, but monogamy cures most of them! Sexually transmitted diseases is the biggest one and can be transmitted through sharing toys that are not washed or protected with a condom. If you participate in sex acts that involve anal penetration you will have to take precautions against contaminating the vagina. Fecal matter in the vagina can cause a nasty infection. Common sense would dictate that you use good hygiene (good old fashioned word) when enter a vagina. Would you want a gynecologist to insert their unwashed fingers in your vagina? Eeeww! So why are you willing to let your girlfriend stick her fingers, that have been who knows where, in your vagina in the heat of the moment? Think about it! True, asking your partner to go wash her hands might be a real mood breaker so you may have to think of some clever way to get the job done. An intimate shared shower before sex might be a good way to get clean and excited at the same time. I had a lover that did interesting things with a warm washcloth before sex that was quite wonderful.
If you are having casual sex, you might also take a good look at your partner’s face before she goes down on you. Are there any cold sores on her lips? Yes? Not sure? Suggest some other activity.
So, protection…condoms on the toys, change them when the toys goes visiting some other orifice. Use lubricants with the toys so the dry condom does not tear that gentle flesh. There was a time when dental dams that you put over your girlfriend’s twat and lick away were all the rage. Doesn’t work very well, the dam is too thick, too small, tastes awful and a dam nuisance (pardon the pun). If you are worried about this, try shrink wrap. It works much better and you can rip off a big piece to cover everything, it’s thin and doesn’t have much of a taste. There are also little latex finger coverings available, maybe if really long finger nails are involved you might consider using them, just make sure you don’t leave one behind. But really the best protection is common sense, look at your partner, look at your partner’s parts before you have sex if she is new to you. Anything does not look right, change the subject.
Women seem to be more addictive to smoking than men. They find it harder to quit. Surely is has got something to do with hormones. But there it is.
The risks of smoking are well known and don’t need to be listed here. Though, I was amazed at friend once who smoked quite heavily and who was surprised when most of her teeth fell out by the time she was 50. They don’t talk about that one much.
What is the best way to quit? Hard to say as we are all unique individuals. But, it seems obvious that support is needed. There are numerous stop-smoking campaigns that offer free nicotine gum and other products to help. Start with http://www.smokefree.gov for a list of programs in your state.
It is encouraging to see people posting their successes on social media like Facebook. Most folks need a lot of support to quit and having 32 friends all chime in with encouraging words is helpful. The anti-smoking attitude of the general culture is also helpful. You used to be able to smoke anywhere, anytime but not anymore. See, the world is trying to assist you to stop smoking by making it damned inconvenient. I was at a retreat site recently that had one tree at the far end of the property designated as the smoking area! A new minority has been created, poor pitiful folks huddled just beyond 20 from the building hunched over in the cold, puffing away. I am surprised there is no organized protest marching down the street with signs. Unfair to smokers! We have rights, too!
This is a tough one. Americans are fat to start with. We are the fattest country in the world and we have the best access to fatty fast food than anywhere else in the world. It is a slippery slope as most of us get heavier as we get older anyway. The good news is that many older women start to lose weight in later old age.
Some years ago there were books and articles about fat as a feminist issue. The authors claimed that we should be allowed to be as fat as we wanted, that it was a patriarchal society that set the standards for how women should look. Claiming our obesity was seen as issue of freedom. It is, of course, you have the freedom to encourage plaque to grow in your arteries, the freedom to send your blood sugar sky high whacking away at your pancreas and the freedom to limit your mobility as you grow older. The appearance of women’s bodies may be a feminist issue but obesity is a dumb idea from a health perspective.
On the opposite end of the fat feminist, of course, have always been the Earth mother lesbian who all changed their names to Luna or Stardancer, who work at the food coop and who have since the 60’s baked their own bread, grown their own organic food, are skinnier than a rail but quite hopefully quite healthy. But most of them live under the radar and do not have health care. But they do have herbs and reiki, and acupuncture and a little Maui Wowie to make the day go a little easier.
Most straight women are motivated to look slim to be more attractive to men. Most lesbians don’t give a damn what men think and most other lesbians don’t care if you are a little overweight or even a lot in some circles. So, what’s the motivation for a lesbian to lose weight?
Your very own self is the answer. Maintaining a sensible weight is for you, your self-image, and your health. And until you get that, no diet plan is going to work.
Addictions drugs and alcohol
Hopefully as the world becomes a more lesbian-friendly place the abuse of drugs and alcohol in the lesbian community will decline. But at the moment it is a serious problem. On the good news side of things, there are many fewer lesbian bars than there were in the past. Many older lesbians whiled away their youth in a lesbian bar, playing pool, picking up girls, smoking, and eating bar food like hamburgers. Wait! It is becoming clear now that it was lesbian bars all along responsible of fat, drunken lesbians puffing away on cigarettes. There are almost no bars left, no place left to gather with like-minded women to drink, smoke and consume large quantities of saturated fat. So where are fat, drunk, smoking lesbians hanging out these days? Maybe they have all turned into suburban Moms with 2.5 children, living an organic gluten free, range free, cholesterol free, lactose free, vegan lifestyle. Maybe those pictures in Curve Magazine are true and untouched photography!
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs there are many resources available for you. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held world-wide and many areas have lesbian groups. Find a meeting in your area at http://www.aa.org/. You can even participate in a meeting while traveling, most cruise ships offer meetings on a daily basis. You can contact Narcotics Anonymous at https://www.na.org/ if your struggle is with drugs. If you are looking for a rehab facility that is LGBT friendly try http://www.recovery.org/topics/find-the-best-gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender-lgbt-addiction-recovery-centers/
If you are new to trying to get your life back in order remember that thousands of lesbians have been successful before you. You too can do it with determination and good support. Talk with older lesbians if you have access to them and many of them will tell you they are now 20 years sober, 30 years clean and sober. Good luck to you and may you one day tell some young lesbian you are 32 years clean and sober and be an inspiration to her.
Lesbians and depression
A researcher friend of mine in women’s studies once did a project on depression in women’s lives and concluded surprise, surprise that women’s lives were in fact, depressing. Same for lesbian depression, it’s tough to be a hated minority, kicked out of your house, made fun of at school, beaten up by your classmates, beaten up by someone on the street who didn’t like the way you looked. If you are out, you are vulnerable. You could get fired, most places do not require a reason to fire you. You could and probably will get passed over for promotion, especially if your boss is a straight white male asshole (there are lot of them around, you know).
There is a great debate in the psychological circles about the causes of depression. Is it an organic brain malfunction, chemical hormone imbalance, inherited, or just plain learned behavior? Millions of dollars are spent by the pharmaceutical companies inventing treatments classifying them as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants or a non-SSRI antidepressants. Some common SSRI antidepressants are fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa) and sertraline (Zoloft), while examples of a few common non-SSRI antidepressants are venlafaxine (Effexor) and buproprion (Wellbutrin, Zyban). Ask around and you will find that these drugs are very commonly prescribed.
It is hard to sort out causes and treatments for depression. We live in a pill-popping society, both legal prescribed medicines, over the counter drugs and all sorts of illegal medicators. And we live in society that believes you never need suffer any pain or discomfort. Look at your medicine cabinet, full to the brim with all kinds of remedies, some that may actually work.
Now, say you live in such a medicator culture and you experience a difficulty in life. Your partner/spouse of ten years moves out taking most of the furniture, your father dies, and you get fired and that was only what happened this week. If you are a Buddhist nun, you sit on your cushion and meditate quietly in the zendo on the impermanence of life and realize that it was grasping on to a fantasy that made you suffer, you see it was your choices that made you miserable. But, if you are just an average American lesbian, you get depressed. Lay the couch day after day, eating bags of chips and cookies, drinking way too much and watching crap TV late into the night. Then at the urging of your mother, you go to your health care provider and they give you drugs to make you feel better. Not to deal with your feelings, not to help you make better choices but just to get that serotonin flowing in your brain again. And it does make you feel better, sort of, but you are also very spacey.
So if you are depressed, could it be because your life is actually depressing at the moment? Or are you depressed is this because this is how you were carefully taught as a small child to deal with life’s difficulties? Had a mom that got the vapors, had a dad that got the “flu” a lot when life got tough? Something to think about.
Go to therapy! Try not to take drugs as the first line of defense. Find a good LGBT therapist, notice we did not say LGBT-friendly therapist. Make the effort to find a lesbian to counsel you or a gay man if you can’t find one. A straight person no matter how enlightened they claim to be, does not know what is like to be gay. Ask at your local LGBT community center, ask your friends, or check out this website for a referral in your area. http://gaylesta.org/
The bottom line on lesbian health is that most of us are just fine, thank you very much. Some of us are overweight, some of us smoke, some of us drink and do drugs and some are depressed but for the most part we have meaningful relationships with other human beings (and dogs and cats), jobs that support us, interesting things to do each day and are quite happy. Many of us younger women are having children, and everybody can get married now. Life is looking up.