Lesbians More Likely to Avoid Doctors and Life-saving Tests, Study Finds

Members of LGBT community make less use of preventative care due to stigmas regarding sexual identity, doctors say.

Yaron Kaminski

About 43 percent of lesbians in Israel have never been checked for papilloma or for cervical cancer — double the percentage of heterosexual women, according to a new study. Lesbians in Israel are also less likely to make appointments with their physicians or gynecologists, and more than half of them do not feel comfortable divulging their sexual orientation to their doctors, according to the study by Hoshen, the education and information center for the LGBT community in Israel.

Findings of the study — which included about 5,000 gay, straight, bisexual and transgendered individuals — are to be presented at an upcoming conference entitled “Talk Health with Pride” at Gan Meir, the LGBT community center in Tel Aviv.

“The LGBT community in general makes less use of healthcare services, primarily preventative care,” says Dr. Gal Wagner Kolasko from the LGBT medical center at Gan Meir, who organized the May 29-30 conference together with Dr. Ruti Gofen. “We believe that one of the reasons for this are the stigmas that accompany these issues. We see this with regard both to visiting clinics, but also in revealing one’s sexual or gender identity to doctors. Unfortunately, anonymous examinations are uncommon in Israel.”

Lesbian women are 30 percent more likely to avoid doctor visits than heterosexual women, according to the study, conducted by Dr. Zohar Mor of the Health Ministry.

Sixty two percent of lesbians have also never had mammograms to test for breast cancer, as opposed to 52 percent of heterosexual women. In addition, lesbian women seem to lead less healthy lifestyles than their heterosexual counterparts, with 62 percent of them regularly consuming alcohol (as opposed to 47 percent of heterosexual women); they are also 30 percent more likely to frequently smoke cigarettes.

According to the study, roughly half of lesbian women (as opposed to 40 percent of heterosexual women) and 15 percent of gay men (as opposed to 42 percent of straight men) have never had an HIV exam. “The current method throughout the world is to find the means to get people to go in for exams. Those who receive care not only live longer, but also infect fewer people,” says Wagner Kolasko.

As use of healthcare services among the LGBT community in Israel has fallen, the amount of HIV carriers in Israel has risen. Roughly 30 percent of HIV carriers in Israel are homosexual men, as opposed to 10 percent in 2002.

A study released by the Israel AIDS Task Force in November 2013, showed that 48 percent of men that have sexual relations with other man have unprotected sex at least once a year; 34 percent of such men have had unprotected sex only a few times; and six percent reported that half of their sexual encounters are conducted without condoms. Eight percent reported that most of their sexual relations are conducted without condoms.

According to Wagner Kolasko, there is a lack of understanding within the healthcare system of the LGBT community’s healthcare needs. “For the study, we approached many different healthcare and educational institutions, and we invited them to hear and learn more about the LGBT community. Most of the answers we received were ‘that’s okay, we know all there is.’” This perception could explain the fact that only 37 percent of lesbians, 22 percent of gays and between 7 and 13 percent of bisexual and transgendered individuals share information about their sexual or gender identity with their doctor. “In order to reduce these gaps and improve healthcare for the community we organized this conference which will include dozens of lectures, workshops and activities. We expect that the community will leave the conference much stronger and healthier,” says Wagner Kolasko.