I came out as bisexual my senior year of high school. No one had ever talked to me about what it meant to bisexual, queer, or LGBTQIA+ in general – at least not in a way that was memorable. In my health classes, there was little to no mention of LGBTQIA+ people, how our sexual health was different from that of heterosexual people, or how to address these topics with our health-care providers.
The first time I went to a gynecologist, my anxiety spiked the second she asked if I was sexually active. They say LGBTQIA+ people are never done “coming out,” and that’s certainly true – I have had to come out to many health-care providers without any prior knowledge of whether they would support or criticize me.
Not only was it terrifying to reveal to my gynecologist that I’m in a same-sex relationship, but it was also just unclear what she meant by “sexually active.” Many people still consider sex to be strictly penetrative, and between a man and a woman. This definition of sex and sexual activity can also impact how your doctor evaluates your risk of getting an STD/STI or your sexual health needs. Without knowing what exactly my doctors mean by “sexually active,” I can’t fairly assess whether it’s worth outing myself. You should always be honest with your doctors, but sometimes it isn’t that simple.
There are also plenty of stereotypes about bisexual women that I feared would be unfairly applied to me. Would my gynecologist or primary care doctor imply that I was promiscuous because of my bisexuality? Would they fail to give me an STD test because women in same-sex relationships are considered somewhat lower risk? Would they just treat me like a straight woman and ignore the fact that my health needs are different as a bisexual woman?
Women already face discrimination by physicians and health-care professionals on a regular basis. Research has shown that both doctors and nurses prescribe less pain medication to women after surgery even though women indicate higher and more frequent pain levels than men. Women’s concerns are often not taken seriously, their mental health and stability coming into question.
This discrimination is only worsened for women with other marginalized identities, such as women of color or women in the LGBTQIA+ community. This bisexual health awareness month, health care providers must be more informed about these issues – women need to feel comfortable sharing their identities without the fear that they won’t be taken seriously. LGBTQIA+ teens need resources and education on talking to their doctors about their sexual orientation and asking for the healthcare they deserve. For many people, going to the doctor can be reassuring; there’s no reason bisexual women shouldn’t feel the same.
Blog by Liyanga de Silva, Communications Department intern at the National Organization for Women.