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news release

Rebecca Wind

March 28, 2005


To Promote Safer-Sex Practices, Health Professionals Must Develop Cultural Sensitivity

Many lesbian and bisexual women believe that only heterosexual women are likely to become infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), according to "Sexual Practices, Risk Perception and Knowledge of Sexually Transmitted Disease Risk Among Lesbian and Bisexual Women," by Jeanne M. Marrazzo et al. As a result, many women do not take protective measures--such as washing hands, using rubber gloves and cleaning sex toys--with their female partners, even though infections can be spread though the exchange of vaginal fluid.

In focus group discussions with the authors, 23 lesbian and bisexual women between 18 and 29 discussed their sexual practices, concerns about STDs and information needs. Although participants felt they lacked necessary information, they said they were unlikely to discuss sexual health-related topics with each other or with their doctors. In fact, a majority of women who identify themselves as lesbians (53-72%) do not disclose their behavior or orientation to their physicians when they seek care. If doctors are unaware of, or make assumptions about, their patients' sexual orientation, they may not provide the appropriate information and services. In the words of one focus group participant, "Your queer clients have different needs than your straight clients, sometimes, and you can’t make assumptions about any of your clients' sexuality. They all deserve your respect."

This point is underscored by a companion viewpoint article, "Cultural Sensitivity and Research Involving Sexual Minorities," by Greta R. Bauer and Linda D. Wayne, which describes cultural barriers that can prevent members of sexual minorities from obtaining effective care. Overcoming such barriers--including the historical classification of homosexuality as deviant, shame about sexuality and distrust of social service providers--by developing greater cultural sensitivity is critical both to providing direct services and to conducting the research needed to plan effective interventions.

Both articles appear in the March 2005 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

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