Doctors have been putting lesbians at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer thanks to assumptions they make about women who bat for their own team, researchers at the University of Washington found in a new study.
It works like this: Gay women are getting fewer screenings for HPV, which leads to most cases of cervical cancer, since the virus is usually transmitted through heterosexual sex. Not having heterosexual sex? No need for a screening, gynecologists assume.
Here’s the thing: Just because a woman is gay doesn’t mean she’s never had sex with a man. In fact, according to the study, 77 percent of lesbians have indeed had sex with a man. Still, doctors presume they haven't. Here’s another thing: Women actually can contract HPV from another woman—whether it’s genital to genital, oral to genital, or digital to genital. Sex toys can also spread HPV.
So why is there such a disconnect between doctors and their lesbian patients? Because these doctors aren't explicitly asking about lesbian patients' sexual history.
We spoke to one of the authors of the paper, Joachim Voss, associate professor of biobehavioral nursing and health systems at University of Washington, and he explained: “Lesbian women see gynecologists much less frequently than straight women because they don’t seek any birth control. When they do go, the gynecologist doesn’t ask them whether they have sex with a man or a woman.“
It’s very difficult to track STD rates and patterns for gay women because there simply isn’t enough data. However, as part of the Healthy People 2020 initiation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aims to build a database specifically for LGBT folks to remedy the lack of knowledge and insight. Hopefully this will help doctors stop inadvertently putting their patients at risk.