Complex relationships exist between sexual orientation and contraceptive use among sexual minority women (SMW), according to focus groups and interviews with young adult cisgender SMW. For this study SMW included queer (an umbrella term that contains a variety of sexually diverse identities, including but not limited to lesbian and bisexual), bisexual, lesbian and pansexual women. The findings, which were reported in the American Journal of Public Health, showed that compared with their heterosexual peers, SMW have an elevated risk for unintended pregnancy.
Investigators gathered information between August 2017 and April 2018 from participants in three U.S. cities: Chicago; Madison, Wisconsin; and Salt Lake City, Utah. The five focus groups and one-on-one interviews totaled 22 women ages 20 to 30 who identified as queer or non-heterosexual, in addition to being assigned female at birth.
“We wanted to examine contexts in which adult SMW engage in penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI), including norms surrounding contraception within these interactions,” said co-principal investigator Jenny Higgins, PhD, an associate professor of both ob/gyn and gender & women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Queer women in the study described a wide range of experiences with contraception. “Many barriers they faced in obtaining and using contraceptives were consistent with those described by straight women: challenging negotiation with partners, contraceptive side effects and dissatisfaction, pregnancy ambivalence, and less frequently cited, healthcare access and insurance hindrances,” Dr. Higgins told Contemporary OB/GYN.
Study participants also conveyed a variety of contraceptive-related themes that affected queer women in unique ways compared to straight women. For example, the investigators discovered that contraceptive ads and campaigns could exclude queer women from contraceptive messaging. Queer women’s resulting lack of self-concept as contraceptive users might impede their ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, “comparatively less frequent PVI in queer women’s lives led to contraceptive nonuse or use of less effective methods when such sex did occur,” Dr. Higgins said.
Dr. Higgins reports no relevant financial disclosures.