A panel committee of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine has released a report urging research on the health needs of lesbians. The Institute of Medicine began studying lesbian health on behalf of the U.S. government.
Committee chair Ann Burgess wrote, “During the last several decades the unique health needs of a subgroup of women — lesbians — have been identified for study. Until this time, avoidance and silence dominated both professional and societal attitudes toward lesbian health.” Burgess urged more health research on lesbians, arguing that the research will help heterosexual women as well.
The report noted that homophobia among health professionals may encourage lesbians to avoid regular checkups, and that the additional stress lesbian women feel due to societal discrimination may negatively impact their health. In addition, lesbian women are less likely to have health insurance given that they are rarely granted insurance benefits from their partners’ employers. Also, some believe that lesbians as a group may smoke more, consume more alcohol, and have higher levels of body fat. These perceived risk factors, along with being less likely to have children or to use oral contraceptives, are thought to increase lesbians’ risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association President Kathy Oriel said that she was thrilled that a mainstream organization has made a commitment to lesbians’ health, commenting, “This is probably the single most important step for lesbian health that we’ve seen.”