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Thursday 29 June 2017

Problems in healthcare

Posted in: Our Communities
By Daily News staff - 15th May 2017

With a number of queer women in Auckland revealing they have been misinformed about smear testing, we chat to health researcher Katie Palmer Du Preez about the experiences of young women she has interviewed in regard to healthcare.

Katie has previously undertaken research of lesbian identified young women. Gaynz acknowledges that this problem is not limited to only lesbian identified women and it impacts all people with a cervix, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.


How do you feel knowing that some queer women are being told they don't need smear tests?

Very concerned for any women who are being denied accurate up-to-date health information that allows them to take care of themselves, and could potentially save their lives. We know that sexual health in the queer community has deep history in the AIDS epidemic and through the sexual health of gay men. Unfortunately, lesbians and their sexual health needs are still invisible and we need to work harder to change this.

Was this something you heard from young lesbian women you interviewed?

I interviewed 15 young lesbian women and only two women talked about going for cervical screening as part of looking after themselves. The rest of the women I spoke to were unscreened, and considered themselves to be at very low risk for cervical cancer, HPV and STIs because they were lesbians.

There was a common perception that HPV and STIs can't be transmitted between women despite recent biomedical evidence to the contrary. The women drew on heteronormative understandings of ‘real sex’ as penetrative sex with a penis and talked about lesbian sex as 'safer sex'. They said they learned this from sexual health classes at school (where lesbian health was completely invisible and heterosex was the norm). Crucially, these incredibly unhelpful ideas were not being challenged by the women's doctors.

Doctors were reported to discuss the young women's health in the context of pregnancy risk first and foremost. The women described how indicating that they were ‘sexually active’ was assumed to be heterosexually active unless they were brave enough to actively contradict their doctor. Other women described how their doctors assumed that their lesbian identity meant that they never sexually active with men - they were given x-rays without being asked if there was a possibility they could be pregnant. What these assumptions made by doctors did was shut down the possibility of lesbians having a full and frank discussion with their health professionals about what might be relevant to them for their sexual health. This compromised the quality of their care, and is not good enough for our young lesbian women.

How can this kind of advice impact a young queer person?

For most of the young women I spoke to the perception that they are not at risk for STIs, HPV or cervical cancer meant that they did not include cervical or STI screening in their lives. This excludes them from key tools that women can use to keep well and puts them at risk. It also prevents them from having a good relationship with their doctor which we know is associated with better quality of care, and seeking advice and treatment earlier.

What were common themes you heard from these young women during the interviews?

The young lesbians showed me that the links between health and sexuality for young women as represented in our culture (media, education, health care) are still predominantly heterosexual (about condoms and preventing pregnancy). Lesbians themselves can be under the impression that they are 'safe' from STIs, HPV and cervical cancer, and their doctors were not challenging this or creating the space for full and open discussion of all of the issues relevant to their sexual health. Daily News staff - 15th May 2017

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