What is lesbian sexuality?

Lesbian sexuality and the sexual health needs of other minorities have often been neglected in the medical publications and in the lay press. Approximately 3-5% of the female population are self-identified lesbians who enjoy same-sex relationships with partners. Many are in long-term committed relationships that share social, financial, and child-rearing responsibilities. Lesbians engage in a wide variety of sexual behavior from intimate touching and kissing to mutual penetration, and some may use sexual accessories such as strap-on paraphernalia. Sharing of sexual toys and oral sex may also be a part of the sexual repertoire.

According to the Lesbian Health Fund founder Kate O'Hanlan, who is also the former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, lesbians have many healthcare concerns that should be discussed with their healthcare providers including breast cancer (lesbians have many risk factors, and for a wide variety of health reasons many over the age of 40 do not get regular mammograms[1], do not do breast examinations, and do not receive clinical breast examinations), depression, and anxiety.

Other issues related to psychiatric illnesses are important possibly resulting from chronic stress from homophobia, stress from family, and unfriendly work and social environments. Substance abuse and excessive tobacco and alcohol use are also important issues to be addressed. Gynecologic and cardiovascular health care are critical because many lesbians are overweight, smoke, and do not get screened for diabetes, high cholesterol, or blood pressure. Fitness health issues should also be addressed because obesity may also be more common in the lesbian population. Domestic violence and osteoporosis are other health concerns of lesbian patients and should be discussed during the annual gynecologic examination.

Some illnesses or surgical procedures that affect the breasts may also adversely affect the sexual pleasure of lesbians who focus on breast caressing and stimulation for a large part of their sexual arousal. Those with breast cancer and surgical alteration or removal of the erotic organ may feel distressed and saddened by the loss of this sexual organ. Clitoral arousal and stimulation may also be affected by medications that blunt arousal (depressive medications). Lesbian bed death is a term invented by sex researcher Pepper Schwartz to describe the supposedly inevitable diminishment of sexual passion in long-term lesbian relationships. The term is sometimes used to refer to diminished sexual activity in any long-term relationship.

How common is same-sex attraction?

Gay men and lesbian women are becoming more visible in today's society. Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, Nate Berkus, and novelist Armistead Maupin have increased awareness of homosexuality to the lay public. Still, the United States may be decades behind the world in granting equality to homosexuals, ending discrimination, and promoting safe health policy, financial protection, and penalties for hate crimes based upon sexual orientation. Canada, Holland, and many other progressive countries have embraced all their constituents and have accepted gay unions—many have gone as far as to endorse the freedoms of same-sex couples with laws to protect their unions and their families. Many countries support same-sex marriage.

Gay and lesbian men and women raise families, work, pay bills (and enormous tax bills partly because of the lack of tax protections that heterosexual couples enjoy), prepare and clean up meals, attend the PTA meetings, and enjoy the humdrum life of parenthood and couplehood. The emerging trend in medical science is that sexual orientation is not environmentally determined but may be determined by a complex interplay between genetic make-up, hormonal environment, and other complicated conditions of development.

Still, the United States may be decades behind the world in granting equality to homosexuals, ending discrimination, and promoting safe health policy, financial protection, and penalties for hate crimes based upon sexual orientation.

Same-sex relationships have been around since the beginning of time and are even prevalent in nature and in the wild. Consider the pink flamingo! In Bristol, England, a pink flamingo named Fernando and his partner Carlos has been living in same-sex wedded fowl bliss in the wild fowl animal park. Fernando and Carlos have even adopted an abandoned chick. A park spokeswoman states that when there are not enough female flamingos or when opposite-sex birds do not hit it off, males pair-bond together. The Flamingo Wildlife Habitat in the Las Vegas Hilton also houses a gay couple of flamingos named Bubblegum and Pink Floyd. In New York City, a pair of male penguins has bonded and is raising a chick—they were the inspiration for the famous and well-received children's book titled And Tango Makes Three! At the San Francisco Zoo, a tour will show geese, sea gulls, penguins, lions, and some hoofed animals in homosexual relationships. The zoo relates a story of a pair of female geese that have been happily married for many years. Other examples abound: a pair of gay vultures at the Jerusalem Zoo have shown the world just how talented and caring gay adoptive parents are when an Israeli zoologist Shmuel Yidov placed a day-old vulture chick that had been hatched in an incubator in with the pair. Fooled, the pair took turns sitting on it and warming it until it hatched again. Bisexuality is the norm among male chimps, and a male chimp can form a long-term partnership with another male that often includes sex. Rats, rabbits, and cats also display same-sex relationships. Perhaps we have more to learn from the animal kingdom.

  • [1] A special X-ray of the breast tissue that can be used as a screening tool for breast cancer.
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