Planned Parenthood provides lesbian healthcare

Leslie Schelat

When most people think of Planned Parenthood, they think of birth control and condoms.

What they don’t think about is that Planned Parenthood offices across the country offer sexual healthcare and education for lesbians too.

Women in same-sex relationships may have issues and questions different from those of heterosexual females. Therefore, it is important that they have medical services tailored to their specific needs.

“I want people to understand that they can be comfortable coming here,” said Sue Hirt, director of patient services at Planned Parenthood offices in Portage, Summit and Medina counties. “No one is going to put judgment on them.”

Sophomore exploratory major Kara Copeland feels under educated about her sexual health as a lesbian.

“I’m positive that my friends and acquaintances are as uninformed as I am,” she said. “It’s not like we have somewhere to go and ask questions.”

Hirt agreed with Copeland’s feelings.

“I think gays are put off by going to medical facilities,” she said. “We’re much more open about questions.”

According to the Planned Parenthood Web site, choosing a lesbian-friendly gynecologist is the first step to sexual health. The site offers suggestions for making an informed decision and gives examples of appropriate questions to ask doctors.

Copeland said that if she had the option of going to a gynecologist that handled, or at least more publicly welcomed, only lesbian women, she would be more likely to go.

If a woman has trouble finding a doctor, she should ask other gay women for recommendations or visit a local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center.

All women, including lesbians, should have annual breast and pelvic exams, including a Pap smear. These tests alert doctors to potential problems common to all females, such as cervical cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and breast cancer.

“Some people say there are higher breast cancer rates because (lesbians) don’t have pregnancies,” Hirt said. “They need to make sure they have regular exams.”

Although many women do not realize it, they must remember that lesbians are still at risk for STDs, even though they cannot become pregnant from their partner.

“Lesbians are less likely to have Pap exams because they don’t need birth control,” Hirt said, “but a lot of lesbians do or have in the past had male partners.”

Because infections are transferred by contact of bodily fluids, such as blood, vaginal fluids and discharge from sores caused by STDs, it is still important to be safe and protected.

In order to reduce the risk of STDs, lesbians also have to practice safe-sex techniques. Planned Parenthood recommends using barrier protection when having oral sex and cleaning and covering sex toys before use.

Without proper protection, diseases such as hepatitis, herpes and the human papilloma virus, or HPV, are easily spread through same-sex relations. The transmission of HIV from woman to woman is rare, but it is possible, according to the Planned Parenthood Web site.

Early detection of these diseases is especially important to a woman’s health now and in the future because some STDs lead to more serious problems, such as AIDS and cervical cancer.

For reasons like these, all women must make smart and informed decisions about their health care. By offering more diverse services, doctors can make this easier and more comfortable for women of all sexual orientations.

Contact social services reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].