Welcome back to Open Minded Health Promotion! This week is all about how cisgender women who have sex with women, including lesbian and bisexual women, can maximize their health. As a reminder — these are all in addition to health promotion activities that apply to most people, like colon cancer screening at age 50.
- Talk with their physician about their physical and mental health
- Practice safer sex where possible to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Some sexually transmitted infections can be passed between women. If sexual toys are shared, consider using barriers or cleaning them between uses.
- If under the age of 26, get the HPV vaccine. This will reduce the chance for cervical, vaginal, anal, and oral cancers.
- Avoid tobacco, limit alcohol, and limit/avoid other drugs. If you choose to use substances and are unwilling to stop, consider using them in the safest ways possible. For example, consider vaporizing marijuana instead of smoking, or participate in a clean needle program.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Women who have sex with women are more likely to be overweight than their heterosexual peers. Being overweight is associated with heart disease and a lower quality of life.
- Exercise regularly. Weight bearing exercise, like walking and running, is best for bone health. But anything that gets your heart rate up and gets you moving is good for your body and mind!
- Seek help if you’re struggling with self injury, anorexia, or bulimia. These issues are much more common in women than in men, and can be particularly challenging to deal with.
- Consider taking folic acid supplements if pregnancy is a possibility. Folic acid prevents some birth defects.
- Discuss their family’s cancer history with their physician.
Your physician may wish to do other tests, including…
- Cervical cancer screening/Pap smear. All women with a cervix, starting at age 21, should get a pap smear every 3-5 years at minimum. Human papilloma virus (HPV) testing may also be included. More frequent pap smears may be recommended if one comes back positive or abnormal.
- Pregnancy testing, even if you have not had contact with semen. Emergency situations are where testing is most likely to be urged. Physicians are, to some extent, trained to assume a cisgender woman is pregnant until proven otherwise. If you feel strongly that you do not want to get tested, please discuss this with your physician.
- BRCA screening to determine your breast cancer risk, if breast cancer runs in your family. They may wish to perform other genetic testing as well, and may refer you to a geneticist.
- If you’re between the ages of 50 and 74, mammography every other year is recommended. Mammography is a screening test for breast cancer. Breast self exams are no longer recommended.
One note on sexually transmitted infections… some lesbian and bisexual women may feel that they are not at risk for sexually transmitted infections because they don’t have contact with men. This is simply not true. The specific STIs are different, but there are still serious infections that can be spread from cis woman to cis woman. Infections that cis lesbians and bisexual women are at risk for include: chlamydia, herpes, HPV, pubic lice, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis (Source). Other infections such as gonorrhea, HIV, and syphilis are less likely but could still be spread. Please play safe and seek treatment if you are exposed or having symptoms.