File photo Researchers at an Australian university say lesbian and bisexual women they surveyed were more likely to use drugs and reluctant to get smears, while a significant number reported experiencing domestic violence. Perth’s WA Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health survey, conducted by Curtin University’s WA Centre for Health Promotion Research (WACHPR) in conjunction with Sydney University, surveyed almost 900 women, with an average age of 26. It found that lesbian and bisexual women use legal and illegal drugs at higher rates than the general community. A third of respondents reported smoking tobacco, which included 43 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds. Nationally, 15 per cent of Australians smoke. “Smoking rates that are twice the national average are a huge concern especially as tobacco smoking is the single most preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia,” says researcher Jude Comfort. She says alcohol was the other drug widely used. While 86 per cent of the sample reported they drank alcohol, which is similar to the broader population, levels of risky drinking were higher. Almost half of the respondents indicated they drank more than the National Health Medical Research Council guidelines recommended to reduce the lifetime risk of alcohol related disease or injury. Nearly one third reported binge drinking. “In the six months prior to the survey nearly half of the women had used an illicit drug – 36 per cent had used cannabis, 18 per cent ecstasy and 16 per cent speed. Again these figures are higher than the broader community,” Comfort says, The survey found 27 per cent of respondents had never had a Pap smear and a further eight per cent had last had one more than three years ago. “This is an important screening tool for cervical cancer. The numbers suggest a poor understanding that lesbians need pap smears,” Comfort says. The survey also showed 35 per cent of women reported they had experienced some kind of homophobic behaviour in the preceding year. “More than 20 per cent had experienced domestic violence with a female partner, an issue that is rarely discussed in the community,” Comfort adds. Comfort says the lack of health promotion, prevention and intervention programmes specifically addressing these and other health issues for lesbian and bisexual women was disappointing. “While health promotion has made significant gains in some issues at the broader community level it appears these messages have been less successful in achieving positive health behaviour in this group of women.” The research findings from Perth are supported by similar work carried out in Sydney. “We hope that this study will provide important guidance to future public health programmes 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,” Comfort says.
Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News staff
First published: Wednesday, 22nd August 2012 - 2:27pm
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