Bisexual women, lesbians die sooner than heterosexual women, report says

Lesbians Bisexual women die earlier

Lesbian and bisexual women die much younger than their heterosexual peers, according to a new study. Photo: iStock.

Lesbian and bisexual women die much younger than their heterosexual peers, according to a new study.

Bisexual women had the shortest life expectancy, dying 37% sooner than heterosexual women, according to the study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Lesbian women died 20% earlier.

Disparities

This gap is due to “extensive health disparities,” including “worse physical, mental, and behavioral health” among lesbian and bisexual women in comparison to heterosexual women.

The report also noted that the disparities are heavily influenced by the social stigma that LGBTQ+ people face.

“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual women have systematically worse physical, mental, and behavioral health than heterosexual women,” the report said. “These disparities are due to chronic and cumulative exposure to stressors (including interpersonal and structural stigma) that propagates and magnifies ill health throughout the life course, manifesting in disparities across a breadth of adverse health outcomes that tend to become more pronounced as individuals age.”

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Because bisexuality is “more concealable than lesbian orientation” (many bisexual women have male partners), “stressors related to disclosure or staying closeted may be more salient for bisexual women, who are less likely than lesbian women to disclose their identities to their social networks,” the study said.

Discrimination by health care providers might cause bisexual men and women to have the worst access to medical care, according to a 2018 UCLA study.

The findings from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research study found that approximately 25% of bisexual men and women avoided having a primary doctor or delayed seeking medical care.

Solving the problem

To combat these disparities, the report said “screening and treatment referral for tobacco, alcohol, and other substance use need to be available without judgment.”

The report also recommended health care workers receive “mandatory, culturally informed training on caring for LGB patients.”

“Health disparities for LGB women are consequences of structural and interpersonal marginalization, which are woven into the day-to-day lives of LGB women in ways that systematically undermine their access to health services and health-promoting behaviors,” the report said.

“Given that biases in care based on sexual orientation occur at every point in the care continuum, clinicians and health care organizations at all levels, in every specialty, and for all ages, have opportunities to intervene in ways that can reduce these disparities and contribute to better health outcomes,” the report said.

For the study, Harvard researchers pulled from a previous study of women who worked as nurses and were born between 1945 and 1964. Approximately 91,000 of them had disclosed their sexuality. Of those, 89,821 (98.9%) identified as heterosexual, 694 (0.8%) identified as lesbian, and 318 (0.4%) identified as bisexual.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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