Center for Young Women's Health

Lesbian Health

 

Remember

  • The word "lesbian" is a word some women use to describe their sexual orientation.
  • You can still get STIs in a same sex relationship.
  • Take your time and trust your feelings about when you should "come out".

If you're reading this guide, you may have questions about your own sexual orientation or about someone who is close to you. Having questions about your sexuality is perfectly normal, and taking the time to learn more is a great way to explore questions and address concerns you may have. After reading this we hope that most of your questions will be answered and you'll have a better idea of the many resources available to gay teens. There are a variety of resources for help and support listed at the end of this guide.

 

What is a lesbian?

A lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to other women and prefers to have a woman as her partner. The word "lesbian" is a term that some women use to describe themselves and understand their sexual orientation. However, some women prefer to use other terms such as "gay" or "queer", and some prefer not to use a label at all.

 

How do I know if I'm a lesbian?

Having one or two sexual experiences with another woman does not necessarily mean you are a lesbian; nor does having a "crush" on someone of the same sex. Many gay people have had sexual experiences with someone of the opposite sex, just as many straight people have had experiences with someone of the same sex. It's okay to be unsure whether you're gay or straight, and it's okay to take your time in finding out. Your sexual "orientation" will develop over time. What's most important is that you listen to your feelings-you don't need to label yourself.

 

What does it mean to be bisexual?

"Bisexual" is the term used to describe people who have sexual and romantic feelings for both men and women. A bisexual can be more attracted to one gender than the other, or he/she can be equally attracted to both. Some gay and lesbian people, (when they first acknowledge their own feelings), may say that they are bisexual, and later describe themselves as a gay man or a lesbian. However, there are also a lot of people who are attracted to both men and women.

 

If I'm not having sex with men, why do I need to see a gynecologist?

It's a common but completely untrue belief that lesbians don't need gynecologic care. Many lesbians feel they're at a low risk for getting STIs because they're not having sex with men. Routine physicals, Pap tests, and (if you're sexually active with men, women, or both men and women) STI counseling and testing are very important. Don't assume that just because you're in a same-sex relationship that you're not at risk. Continue to see a gynecologist for check-ups.

 

Am I at risk for STIs even if I only have sex with women?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) are infections that are typically passed through sexual, and sometimes nonsexual, contact with an infected person. Anyone can become infected. STIs can be passed from woman to woman even if neither one has ever had sex with a man. STIs are spread through contact with infected body fluids, such as blood (including menstrual blood), vaginal fluids, semen, and discharge from a sore caused by an STI. They can also be spread through contact with infected skin or mucous membranes, and through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Whether you're gay or straight, it's important to always practice safe sex to lower your chances of getting a STI.

 

How do I lower my risk of getting an STI?

There are ways to be close to another woman that lowers your chances of getting an STI. Some ways to connect with another person and have safe sex include: hugging, (dry) kissing, masturbation/mutual masturbation, and giving each other a massage. If you're going to be in contact with your partner's vaginal fluids, be sure to protect yourself by using an oral barrier, such as a "dental dam". Oral barriers are protective materials made of latex or very thin plastic. They're used to cover a part of the body and prevent contact with body fluids that could be infected with an STI.

 

Ways to lower your risk of getting an STI:

How can I find a primary health care provider (PCP) who will help and support me?

For your PCP to provide the best care, it's important that he or she know about the people and the issues in your life. You should feel safe and comfortable enough with your PCP to be completely honest about your sexuality, and to ask any questions that you may have.

 

You may feel comfortable speaking to your current PCP about your sexual identity, or you may want to look for a new one.

 

You can:

Finding a PCP with whom you can talk honestly and ask questions openly is an important way to get the support you need and deserve.

 

Where can I go for support and more information?

There are many people who are willing to help and support you. If you haven't had the chance to talk about your feelings with anyone, think about a person with whom you feel comfortable and can trust. It's possible that not everyone you meet will be accepting of your sexual orientation, and you may face some prejudice and discrimination. So trust your own feelings about who to reach out to for support. It's important to use your own instincts and judgment. The person that you choose to talk with could be a:

Sharing your feelings with someone who is willing to listen is very important. If there's no one in your life that you can trust, there are plenty of resources available that will tell you where you can go to meet people and talk about your feelings.

 

Gay/Straight Alliances : Many schools have Gay/Straight Alliances, GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) networks or other groups where you'll be able to meet students and teachers willing to listen and share their own experiences. Gay/StraightAlliances and GLBT networks are also support groups that work to help reduce anti-gay violence, harassment, and discrimination. They do this by providing information about homophobia (fear and prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people) to the school community and by encouraging open and honest discussions to increase understanding within the school. These groups are usually led by students (with teachers acting as advisors) and are open to all students. If your school doesn't have a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA), you may want to talk to a trusted teacher about the possibility of starting one. Organizations such as GLSEN can be a great resource and provide you with information on how to start a GSA in your school.

 

Guidance Counselors: Consider talking to a guidance or health counselor at your school and asking him or her for information about resources in your area.

 

Other Resources: Search online for organizations and/or groups where you can meet and find support from other gay teens. Be sure to look for groups that are organized by trained counselors. Although it may be tempting to meet with someone you've talked to and perhaps connected with online, it can be very dangerous. There's no way to know for sure if someone is telling the truth online.

 

What should I tell my parents and other family members?

Coming out to your family can be very scary and is an incredibly brave thing to do. Make sure you're ready. Not everyone may be willing to accept your sexual orientation at first. However, hiding it keeps the people who are closest to you from knowing an important part of who you are. This can make you feel lonely and isolated. Take your time to decide if and when you want to come out. You shouldn't feel any pressure to tell people until you're ready. Some gay teens say that after they came out, they became much closer to their families-that it was a relief not to be keeping a secret any longer. However, some teens know that their parents or other family members aren't ready to hear about their sexual orientation and worry about being treated unfairly. Be as open and honest with your parents/guardians as you feel comfortable being.

 

If you do choose to come out to your parents and other family members, it's important to have a support system (of trusted friends and adults such as a teacher or counselor) in place. Some teens find it helpful to practice what they're going to say when coming out to family. Others find it helpful to write letters explaining their sexuality followed by a face-to-face conversation. If you decide to come out to your family, it's a good idea to meet with your support team afterwards to discuss their reactions.

 

What should I tell my friends?

It's normal to want to be accepted for who you are by your friends and other peer groups. It's also true that it's sometimes difficult to feel like you "fit in" at school, whether you're gay, straight or bisexual. What helps is to try and surround yourself with friends whom you know are accepting of your sexual orientation. Some of your friends may already know, but others may be surprised. Being honest and open will go a long way in communicating with your friends.

 

Please remember that you are not alone. There are 24-hour hotlines and online chats available to answer questions, give you information, and just listen to your thoughts and concerns. It can be very difficult and it takes courage to come out as a bisexual or a lesbian. Take your time, trust your feelings, and never be afraid to reach out and ask for help and support.

 

Additional Resources:

 

Websites:

Online Chats:

Hotlines:

Books:

 

Bauer, Marianne Dane, ed. Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

 

Chandler, Kurt. Passages of Pride: Lesbian and Gay Youth Come of Age. New York: Times Books/Random House, 1995.

 

Cohen, Susan and David. When Someone You Know is Gay. New York: Dell, 1992.

 

Garden, Nancy. Annie On My Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982.

 

Herdt, Gilbert. Children of Horizons: How Gay and Lesbian Teens are Leading a New Way Out of the Closet. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

 

Heron, Ann. Two Teenagers in Twenty: Writings by Gay and Lesbian Youth. Boston: Alyson Publications, 1994.

 

Mastoon, Adam. The Shared Heart: Portraits and Stories Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young People. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1997.

 

Moore, Lisa, ed. Does Your Mama Know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories. Austin, TX: RedBone Press, 1997.

 

Pollack, Rachel. The Journey Out: a Guide For and About Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Teens. New York: Viking, 1995.

 

Rench, Janice E. Understanding Sexual Identity: A Book for Gay and Lesbian Teens. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1990.

 

White, Jocelyn C. and Marissa C. Martinez. The Lesbian Health Book: Caring for Ourselves. New York: Seal Press, 1997.

 

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital

 

Updated: 11/29/2012

 

Related Guides:

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The word "sexuality" means different things to different people. Generally, it refers to an individual's personal experience of being attracted to other people and the body's sexual feelings and response to those people. There are lots of terms that are connected to sexuality such as sexual orientation, gender identity, bisexuality and more...

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