Lesbians' sexual history with men: implications for taking a sexual history

Arch Intern Med. 1999 Dec;159(22):2730-6. doi: 10.1001/archinte.159.22.2730.


Background: Health care providers may not solicit a comprehensive sexual history from lesbian patients because of provider assumptions that lesbians have not been sexually active with men. We performed this study to assess whether women who identify themselves as lesbians have a history of sexual activities with men that have implications for receipt of preventive health screening.

Objective: To convey the importance for health care providers to know their patients' sexual history when making appropriate recommendations for preventive health care.

Methods: A survey was printed in a national news magazine aimed at homosexual men, lesbians, and bisexual men and women. The sample included 6935 self-identified lesbians from all 50 US states. The outcomes we measured were respondents' number of lifetime male sexual partners and partners during the past year, their lifetime history of specific sexual activities (e.g., vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse), their lifetime condom use, and their lifetime history of sexually transmitted diseases.

Results: Of respondents, 77.3% had 1 or more lifetime male sexual partners, 70.5% had a lifetime history of vaginal intercourse, 17.2% had a lifetime history of anal intercourse, and 17.2% had a lifetime history of a sexually transmitted disease. Exactly 5.7% reported having had a male sexual partner during the past year.

Conclusion: These findings reinforce the need for providers to know their patients' sexual history regardless of their reported sexual orientation, especially with regard to recommendations for Papanicolaou smears and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Condoms / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • HIV Seropositivity / diagnosis
  • Homosexuality, Female*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Middle Aged
  • Papanicolaou Test
  • Preventive Health Services
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology
  • Vaginal Smears