First Sex for Most Lesbians Is With a Man

Study finds many had gotten pregnant

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By
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 16, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- What makes a lesbian? Researchers still don't have an answer to that question, but a new study confirms the sex lives of most lesbians begin with the same thing: a man.

Researchers found that 85 percent of British lesbian and bisexual women surveyed have had sex with men, and most were virgins until a sexual encounter with a man, typically around age 18. The study appears in the April issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections.

American studies have shown similar results, says Susan Cochran, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies lesbians. But the numbers, she says, are changing.

"Younger lesbians are less likely to report ever having had sex with men," she said. "That reflects more sexual freedom among women. They have more choices and more control over their sexuality."

The survey, the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom, was completed between 1992 and 1995. In one of the most surprising findings, 25 percent of the lesbians said they had been pregnant, as had 29 percent of bisexual women.

While many of the British women surveyed had sex with men during their lives, only 12 percent had done so within the past year. For 70 percent, the last sexual encounter with a male was at least four years in the past.

The women typically had sex with a man at around the age of 18, then went on to sex with a woman three years later. Cochran said lesbians may end up with a heterosexual relationship at first -- a phenomenon that's less common among gay men -- because they don't always need to take the initiative.

"Young women are propositioned all the time for sex. Men typically initiate it and women say yes or they say no," she says. By contrast, young gay men usually must initiate a relationship with a woman, and they may be less likely to take that more rigorous step.

Study co-author Dr. Julia Bailey, a researcher at King's College London, says she hopes the research will encourage doctors to not make assumptions about the women they treat. "If a woman tells you she's a lesbian or bisexual woman, this does not mean you know what she does (or doesn't do) in bed," she says. "Many lesbians engage in penetrative sex, have sex with men, get pregnant and have children."

Sex with men may put lesbians at risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, she says. In fact, the survey found that 32 percent of women who reported sex with men had never used condoms.

"Open discussion about these issues is needed so that lesbians can make informed choices," Bailey says.

More information

To learn more about health risks facing gays and lesbians, check out the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. Or try lesbianstd.com, a project of the University of Washington.

SOURCES: Susan Cochran, Ph.D., professor, epidemiology, University of California, Los Angeles; Julia Bailey, M.D., researcher, King's College London; April 2003 Sexually Transmitted Infections

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