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Women's Health USA 2013 An illustrated collection of current and historical data, published annually.

Lesbian and Bisexual Women

Narrative

Lesbian and bisexual women have been shown to be at increased risk for adverse health outcomes, including overweight and obesity, poor mental health, substance abuse, violence, and barriers to optimal health care resulting from social and economic inequities.1,2 Although frequently referred to as part of a larger group of sexual minorities, including gay men and transgender individuals, the health status and needs of lesbian and bisexual women are shaped by a range of factors including sexual identity and behavior, as well as traditional sociodemographic factors, like age, education, and race and ethnicity. The terms “lesbian” and “bisexual” are used to define women according to their sexual orientation which can reflect sexual identity, behavior, or attraction;3 on this page the terms lesbian and bisexual refer to women’s self-reported sexual identity.4

In 2006–2010, 1.2 percent of women aged 18–44 years self-identified as homosexual, gay, or lesbian and 3.9 percent self-identified as bisexual. The proportion of women who reported any same-sex sexual behavior, however, was substantially higher at 14.2 percent, while 16.5 percent of women in this age group reported some degree of same-sex attraction (data not shown in graph images or in data tables on this site).

Among reproductive-aged women in 2006–2010, differences were observed for several health indicators by sexual identity. Bisexual women were less likely than heterosexual women to report being in excellent or very good health (47.3 versus 66.6 percent, respectively) and more likely to be obese (43.0 versus 30.6 percent, respectively); no significant differences were observed between lesbian and heterosexual women for either indicator. Conversely, while 65.9 percent of heterosexual and 60.3 percent of bisexual women received a Pap smear in the past 12 months, only 43.9 percent of lesbians reported receiving this service. Both lesbian and bisexual woman, however, were more likely than heterosexual women to report smoking, with over half of bisexual women reporting this health risk behavior (55.7 percent), compared to 38.1 percent of lesbian women and 25.8 percent of heterosexual women. Similarly, 30.8 percent of lesbians and 22.6 percent of bisexual women reported binge drinking (defined as consuming 5 or more drinks within a couple of hours at least once a month on average during the past year), compared to 12.3 percent of heterosexual women.

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine concluded that to better understand and meet the unique needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, more data are needed in several priority areas: demographics, social influences, health care inequalities, and transgender-specific health needs.5 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to increase the number of federally-funded health and demographic surveys that collect and report data on sexual orientation and gender identity.6

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services link leaves hrsa.gov site. Healthy People 2020 link leaves hrsa.gov site: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health. Accessed 08/23/13.

2 Mayer KH, Bradford JB, Makadon HJ, Stall R, Goldhammer H, Landers S. Sexual and gender minority health: what we know and what needs to be done. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(6):989-995.

3 National Academies of Science, Institute of Medicine link leaves hrsa.gov site. The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: building a foundation for better understanding. Accessed 08/23/13.

4 Chandra A, Mosher WD, Copen C, Sionean C. Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National health statistics reports; no 36. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics; 2011.

5 National Academies of Science, Institute of Medicine link leaves hrsa.gov site. The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: building a foundation for better understanding. Accessed 08/23/13.

6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services link leaves hrsa.gov site. Recommended Actions to Improve the Health and Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities. Accessed 08/23/13.

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Graphs

Data

Selected Health Indicators Among Women Aged 18–44 Years, by Sexual Identity, 2006–2010*
Selected Health Indicators Percent of Women, Heterosexual or Straight Percent of Women, Homosexual, Gay or Lesbian Percent of Women, Bisexual
*Estimates are age-adjusted.
**Based on Body Mass Index (BMI), a number calculated from a person's weight and height. Obese is defined as a BMI of 30.0 or higher.
†Calculated for females aged 20-44 years.
‡Smoked at least one cigarette per day on average in the past year.
§Defined as consuming 5 or more drinks within a couple of hours at least once a month on average in the past year.
Source: Chandra A, Copen CE, Stephen EH. Infertility and impaired fecundity in the United States, 1982–2010: Data from the National Survey of Family Growth. National health statistics reports; no 67. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.
Excellent or Very Good Health Status 66.6 59.5 47.3
Obese** 30.6 33.6 43.0
Received Pap Smear in Past 12 Months 65.9 43.9 60.3
Smoking 25.8 38.1 55.7
Binge Drinking§ 12.3 30.8 22.6