Monday, June 8, 2009

Lesbians and HIV

Rachel Rabkin Pechman's June 2009 article in Poz, entitled, "The L+ Word" gives a nice synopsis into an often unnamed, unheard-of, and un-epidemiologized segment of the population: that of the HIV positive lesbian.

Given my recent accidental occupational needlestick, I became hyperaware of this issue as I was waiting for my own HIV results.

Sadly, even I in the LGBT healthcare field had not really thought about lesbians who are living with HIV. While the percentage of lesbians living with HIV is likely much lower than that of gay males and much of the heterosexual population, they do exist. Lesbians, like any other group of people, cross and re-cross the pre-determined boundaries and categories set by epidemiologists. As with everyone else, lesbians can be infected through IV drug use, sex with men, and even sex with other women (though a definite documented case is yet to exist).

What I think is most important from a health-care provider perspective is knowing what to ask patients, and what to tell them in regards to safer sex. Mainly, never assume someone's sexuality without first asking them who their sexual partners are. After that, it becomes easier to tailor education to the patient, based on those sexual practices, and what is safest and most relevant to them.

Which brings me to the next point, if you are NOT being asked by your health-care provider who your sexual partners are, it's time for a further discussion with her, or to switch to someone you do feel more comfortable with. Health-care, as we all know, is very costly right now, even to those lucky enough to have insurance. And, most importantly, you're stuck with your body your entire life. We all deserve to be treated safely, and with dignity and respect by our health-care providers.