The committee identified several gaps and priorities for additional research, which follow:

Research Gaps and Priorities

  • Priority 1: Research is needed to better understand the physical and mental health status of lesbians and to determine whether there are health problems for which lesbians are at higher risk as well as conditions for which protective factors operate to reduce risk to health of lesbians. There is some evidence that lesbians may be at heightened risk for some health problems. There are, however, large gaps in the knowledge about lesbian health, and the population-based data needed to determine their relative health risks are not available. It is critical that such research include consideration of the impact of socioeconomic and cultural factors on the health of lesbians.
  • Priority 2: Research is needed to better understand how to define sexual orientation in general and lesbian sexual orientation in particular and to better understand the diversity of the lesbian population. Definitions of lesbian samples in research studies have varied widely along the multiple dimensions of sexual orientation: sexual identity, sexual behavior, and attraction or desire. Population-based data on ''lesbians" are needed to better understand these dimensions of sexual orientation and the interrelationships among them, the characteristics of the population and how these characteristics interrelate with health status, and the diversity of the population.
  • Priority 3: Research is needed to identify possible barriers to access to mental and physical health care services for lesbians and ways to increase their access to these services. It is commonly believed in the lesbian community that lesbians do not use traditional health services at the same levels as other women, although population-based data are not available to determine the severity of this problem. Nonetheless, the committee did identify a number of barriers to access to mental and physical health care services for lesbians. These include structural barriers such as the potential impact of managed care and the lack of legal recognition of relationship partners; financial barriers, which may impede access to health insurance coverage; and personal and cultural

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