Seek help for substance abuse

Lesbians and bisexual women might face unique risk factors for substance abuse, such as:

  • Stress related to passing as a heterosexual or coming out
  • Trauma due to bullying, violence, abuse or self-abuse
  • Impact of sexism and discrimination
  • Relying on bars or clubs for socializing and peer support

If you have a substance abuse concern, remember that help is available. Local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health, mental health or community centers often provide substance abuse treatment. Organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association also may provide referrals.

Recognize domestic violence

Domestic violence can affect anyone in an intimate relationship. Warning signs specific to lesbian or bisexual women might include a partner who:

  • Threatens to tell friends, loved ones, colleagues or community members your sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Tells you that authorities won't help a homosexual, bisexual or transgendered person
  • Tells you that leaving the relationship means you're admitting that homosexual relationships are deviant
  • Tells you that domestic violence can't occur in homosexual relationships or that women can't be violent

Staying in an abusive relationship might leave you depressed, anxious and hopeless. If you don't want to disclose your sexual orientation, you might be less likely to seek help after an assault. Still, the only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to take action — the sooner the better. If you're a target of domestic violence, tell someone about the abuse, whether it's a friend, loved one, health care provider or other close contact. Consider calling a domestic violence hotline and creating a plan to leave your abuser.

Make routine health care a priority

Some lesbians and bisexual women struggle to find a doctor knowledgeable about lesbian health issues and with whom they feel comfortable discussing their needs and concerns. To take charge of your health, look for a doctor who puts you at ease and encourages discussion of sexual issues. Identify yourself as lesbian or bisexual, and ask about routine screenings recommended for women in your age group — such as blood pressure and cholesterol measurements and screenings for breast cancer and cervical cancer. If you're not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, schedule regular screenings for sexually transmitted infections. Share any other health concerns you might have with your doctor as well. Early diagnosis and treatment help promote long-term health.

You might also take heart in a plan unveiled in June 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the collection of data that tracks the health and experiences of people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The collection of such information is expected to help address the unique health needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Jul. 24, 2012 See more In-depth