Menopause is a very personal journey for every woman, and sometimes there is a feeling that our views go unheard. Last week we touched on how difficult it can be to maintain good communication in a relationship when one half of the partnership is going through the menopause. Articles on this subject tend to focus on heterosexual couples, in that the man will never experience PMS, menopause etc. But how does the menopause effect homosexual women, and specifically lesbian couples? If you are in a homosexual relationship and both of you are suffering (perhaps very different) symptoms of the same condition, this could be particularly hard to deal with.
Homosexual women and the menopause
Is there any significant difference between straight and lesbian women when going through the menopause? Is there any difference at all? We need to start by considering that lesbian and straight women are identical in almost every aspect in terms of age at menopause, education, ethnic origin. This gives scientists a sound basis for examining if sexual orientation has an impact on women’s health.
Are there more risk factors?
There is some evidence in scientific literature, which suggests that lesbian women may experience higher rates of some chronic diseases. These diseases, which are typically “midlife” ailments include cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and some types of cancer. The main causes of this increased risk can be attributed to lifestyle choices.
This hypothesis was confirmed by data from various study groups within the women health initiative (WHI). Studies demonstrate a higher incidence of risk factors like smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption among homosexual women. This becomes more directly relevant during menopause, because the risk of CVD and other diseases is already known to increase during this period.
Another contributing factor may lie in the less frequent use of health care services by this specific group of women. Many homosexual women fear a lack of sensitivity or potential lack of confidentiality from health care providers when availing themselves of health care. Unfortunately it seems there is still a lack of understanding on the subject of
s and understanding challenging for patient and carer alike.
There are plenty of inappropriate assumptions concerning the sexual health of homosexual women. There is an (inaccurate) assumption that women who haven’t had heterosexual encounters have been exposed to less sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Misconceptions such as this account for some of the inappropriate medical management provided to these women. Lesbians develop cervical cancer in the same numbers as heterosexual women. If a woman hasn’t been through pregnancy, they might in fact be at increased risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Partner violence can occur in any relationship, but statistics confirm this is less likely to occur in homosexual relationships.
On the contrary, homosexual women can experience homophobic abuse and discrimination, which heterosexual women do not experience.
This can result in greater levels of anxiety and mood disorders. As we know, anxiety and mood disorders are common for menopausal women. These symptoms can be amplified if you are experiencing other anxieties not related to menopause.
What can be done?
The reason we are highlighting the additional challenges faced by homosexual women, is to make sure that every person going through menopause is heard.
Healthcare providers need more education and information about the effects that lifestyle can have on the menopause. To this end, studies cannot solely be comprised of straight white women. The fact that much of this article was based on hypotheses only serves to prove the point.
Menopause is already a delicate time, but it can be so much worse if you don’t feel comfortable talking about your sexuality freely. To reach that stage, healthcare providers need help to ask the right questions. A good start would be not to just assume the women in front of you is heterosexual.