As a non-monogamous and non-straight woman I have faced and, in some ways, come to expect discrimination, comments and invasive questions about my life.
However, a recent visit to the GP’s surgery brought back into sharp focus just how bad the reality is for LGBTQ people accessing health care and public services.
I have developed a sensible and pro-active attitude to sexual health, so went asking for “just an STI check-up”, explaining that I do it regularly regardless of current sexual activity.
The GP I saw decided that an appropriate reaction would be sheer incredulity, that a young woman could be responsible and in control of her health seemed to be impossible to her. However this quickly changed when the GP started to learn about my sexuality, suddenly I was no longer an astonishing example of responsibility but an irresponsible sexual health nightmare.
After years of cringing every time a GP asks if I use condoms before asking anything else about my sexual activity, I have taken the decision to start challenging this. I had also taken the decision to start being more open with health care professionals about my sexuality. So when faced with the “condom question” I clearly informed her of the status of my two current relationships, but also challenged her not to presume that all relationships would be ones that use condoms.
Her response to this was to inform me “that all sexual encounters should use a condom as infection can be passed from penis to vagina”. Clearly all memory of the fact that her patient had just informed her of regular sexual health checks had been forgotten.
I patiently explained to her that I was referring to non-heterosexual relationships, although losing patience very fast.
With the benefit of hindsight the look of complete confusion on the GP’s face at this time was pretty priceless, as she said “Oh, do lesbian women not use condoms?” The GP had never heard of dental dams.
As I wondered out loud what she advises even heterosexual couples about safe oral sex she exhibited the most stunning piece of homophobic behaviour so far by stating that “of course, one of them might be bisexual and bring something from outside”!
She continued to patronise me about my relationship choices and express over-the-top concern about my polyamorous relationships. I was left with a feeling of complete exasperation and lack of faith in the health care system.
A Stonewall survey in 2008 found that half of LBT women have had negative experiences within a healthcare sector, and half are not out to their GP. There is a shocking deficit of training for GPs on LGBT sexual health, and the NHS refuses to recognise it as an issue.
Women should be allowed choice in their sexual health, and be respected for their decisions. GPs cannot provide adequate sexual health care whilst they remain either woefully ignorant or discriminatory. For women to be able to take control of their bodies and lives, we need to have the tools to do this, adequate sexual health provision being one of them.
Public services require far-reaching democratisation in order to sufficiently provide for us, be that keeping and expanding Citizens Advice Bureaus, or providing decent sexual health services.