Smear Campaign
Health & Wellbeing, Feature
Posted on 28 Feb 2019

The thing about lesbians, bisexual women and straight women is that we pretty much all have the same bodies.

There are some details that change - width, height, colour, and some people have some bits missing - but basically we’re all wandering around with the same model; the same arms, the same legs, the same heads, the same boobs, the same bum. In medical terms particularly, we have plenty in common with each other. Which is why we can all make do with the same surgeons, doctors, nurses, dressmakers and sexual health clinics. This basic fact, however, sometimes comes as a shock to some people.

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There are some details that change - width, height, colour

To some extent, there has been a tendency for people to be too rigidly defined by their labels - gay, straight, bisexual etc - without recognising the intrinsic variability in human behaviour. Medically there has been a tendency to look at what we are, rather than what we do. The linking factor between lesbians, bisexual women and straight women is that we are all women and in command of very similar bodies. The other linking factor is that our present label does not necessarily always define our behaviour, or our past behaviour. Human beings are naturally very good at grey areas.

It’s this sort of thinking that led to a particularly weird conversation I had with my GP. He asked me if I was sexually active, so I said that I was and that my partner was female. “So,” he said, “you don’t…” and looked down at his hands, which seemed to be attempting some sort of crude British Sign Language translation of penetrative sex. I assumed he was talking about penises, given the awkwardness of the conversation, so I said no.

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He asked me if I was sexually active, so I said that I was and that my partner was female.

“It’s up to you whether you have a smear test,” he decided. Decisively. I asked some questions about the likelihood of developing cervical cancer without having sex with men, and he was undecided. As cancer is a familiar visitor in my family, I decided, very decisively, that I would have a smear after all.
It’s notable that my GP not only had too little information about lesbians and cervical cancer - and a very poor grasp of British Sign Language - he also failed to ask me any questions about my past sexual partners, who may well have been male, for all he knew, thereby giving me exactly the same level of risk as straight women who’d previously had sex with men.

I went home and googled it (I hope the GP did something more comprehensive than this) and it wasn’t all that easy to find out.

This might be one factor in why 18% of lesbian and bisexual women in the screening age bracket of 25 to 64 have never had a smear. There’s a whole load of misinformation out there, and uncertainty about whether women who’ve never had sex with men should even bother medical professionals with their vaginas.

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18% of lesbian and bisexual women in the screening age bracket of 25 to 64 have never had a smear.

The plain truth of the matter, though, is that cervical cancer is a killer of women, and that the HPV virus (which leads to most cervical cancer) can be transmitted in lots of ways that don’t always include penises. Licking, touching and sharing sex toys can all help to transmit the virus. Currently, the biggest factor in developing cervical cancer is not having a smear test.

So, however you define your sexuality, treat yourself as a woman to the chance of a longer life and get yourself a smear test.

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Birmingham LGBT Centre offers a host of services for females, including a dedicated women’s LBQ clinic on the first Wednesday of every month. Check their website HERE

FACT CHECKER

17.8% of lesbian and bisexual women of eligible screening age (25-64) have never been for cervical screening.

Research from the LGBT Foundation has shown that 40.5% of LGB women of screening age have incorrectly been told that they don’t need to attend because of their sexual orientation. This has had a lasting impact of declining smear-test attendance in the LGB community.

Cervical screening prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers developing. Not attending your screening is usually the biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer.

In a survey carried out in 2017, 36% of lesbian, bisexual and other ‘women who have sex with women’ said that either a doctor or a nurse had assumed they were heterosexual.

Cat's Corner - by Gudrun

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