Lesbian and bi women drinking, using drugs at risky levels
A newly published West Australian study has found lesbian and bisexual women are at greater risk of drinking at dangerous levels and engaging in illicit drug use, while many seem to also be complacent about the need for regular cervical cancer testing.
The study, Women in contact with the Perth gay and lesbian community, conducted by the Western Australian Centre for Health Promotion Research (WACHPR) at Curtin University surveyed almost 900 women about their sexual history, alcohol and drug use, instances of discrimination and their health.
The study found 27 per cent of respondents had never had a pap smear while a further 8 per cent had only had a test over three years ago.
Lead researcher, Jude Comfort, said the study’s findings were worrying.
“This is an important screening tool for cervical cancer,” Comfort said. “The numbers suggest a poor understanding that lesbians need pap smears.”
According to the survey, while levels of lesbian and bisexual women who drank alcohol were similar to that found in the general community, almost half of respondents drank more than National Health Medical Research Council guidelines recommended to reduce the lifetime risk of alcohol related disease or injury. Nearly a third drank at levels that would be classified as ‘binge drinking’.
In the preceding six months, 49 per cent of respondents had also used an illicit drug including cannabis (36 per cent), ecstasy (18 per cent), and speed (16 per cent).
“To contextualise this, the authors note that LBQ women report illicit drugs use at a similar level to that of young heterosexual men,” the report states.
“Despite stark evidence that a lesbian, bisexual or queer identity appears predictive of drug use, harm reduction efforts have largely focused on gay men.”
Though the rate of smoking among women within the general population is 16 per cent, over a third of lesbian and bisexual women in the study reported smoking tobacco.
One possible explanation for the extremely high rates of drinking, smoking and drug use found within the survey sample could be that the average age of respondents was only 26.
The survey also shows 35 per cent of respondents had experienced some form of anti-gay discrimination in the preceding 12 months while more than 20 per cent had experienced domestic violence while in a relationship with a female partner.
Comfort said the study showed current health promotion, prevention and intervention programs specifically addressing lifestyle and health issues for lesbian and bisexual women were disappointing.
“We hope that this study will provide important guidance to future public health programs targeting the lesbian and bisexual women’s population.
They also provide direction for further research to better understand the preventative health needs of this group,” she said.
A copy of the report can be accessed from http://wachpr.curtin.edu.au/local/docs/reports/WWASH_16072012withcover.pdf