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Lesbians and most recent stats on HIV risk

May 28, 1997

I am looking for the most recent information on HIV transmission in the lesbian community. I have heard that there have been only a few confirmed cases.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

Many times I've been asked how many HIV positive Lesbians there are. The truth is, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) does not keep a statistic as to how many Lesbians and Bisexual women have HIV. The CDC now believes that there is a small but significant number of Lesbians with HIV infection, and that woman-to-woman transmission of HIV is possible. In fact, woman-to-woman sexual transmission of HIV has already been reported in the medical literature. The risk of HIV transmission between women is lower than HIV transmission between men, and between men and women. We cannot say how often sexual infection between women occurs, but the rate is probably relatively low.

The way we keep statistics can also lead to erroneous conclusions as to the rate of HIV among Lesbians/bisexual women. If an HIV positive woman reported having sex with many women, but had sex with just one man (even just one time), for statistical purposes, she is considered heterosexual.

I've heard health professionals say that HIV isn't a problem in Lesbians, since they have not seen any statistics on how many Lesbians are actually infected. Part of the problem is that many healthcare professionals will not ask an HIV positive woman if she has female sex partners. Many healthcare professionals don't feel comfortable talking about Lesbian sex, and many just assume that if a woman has HIV, she either got it from a man, or through IV drug use. The truth is, if you don't ask the questions, you're not going to find the answers. Because we do not keep statistics on how many women with HIV are Lesbians (or bisexual), we cannot say how common HIV is in the Lesbian community.

I'm starting to find more and more Lesbians and Bisexual women with HIV and other STD's. From a recent medical study (and my own personal experience), many Lesbians and Bisexual women with HIV became infected through IV drug use. If a woman had multiple risk factors (unprotected sex with multiple partners, drug use etc.), it's hard to know how she became infected. Was it from her drug use? Was it from her female sex partners? Was it from her male partners (if any)? Sometimes it's hard to tell which of her risk factors she became infected by.

There is also a common myth in the Lesbian community that Lesbians and Bisexual women don't get HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). The fact is they do. But again, we don't keep any statistics as to how many Lesbians have HIV, or other STD's for that matter.

In summary, all we can say is that female-to-female sexual transmission is possible. But we don't know how common (or rare) this is. Many Lesbians/Bisexual women became infected through IV drug use. Some may have become infected from male partners. Because we don't keep records of how many Lesbians/Bisexual women have HIV, the true prevalence of HIV in this community is unknown. HIV and STD's among Lesbians and Bisexual women is real and does's just never discussed. If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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