Conclusion 3: Research on lesbian health, especially the development of more sophisticated methodologies to conduct such research, will help advance scientific knowledge that is also of benefit to other population subgroups, including rare or hard-to-identify population subgroups and women in general.

The committee identified numerous areas where additional research is needed either to better understand lesbian health or to improve the methods used to study lesbians and their health. Priority areas for research are the following:

Research 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 their health risk.

There has been much speculation about health risks of lesbians, and there is some evidence that lesbians may be at heightened risk for some problems. There are, however, large data gaps in the knowledge about lesbian health, and the population-based data needed to determine the relative health risks of this population are not available. It is critical that such research consider the socioeconomic and cultural contexts in which lesbians live and the impact of these factors on their health. Risk factors that influence the health of lesbians across the life span include negative attitudes and stigma toward them, barriers in access to health care, socio-economic factors, various legal factors including the fact that engaging in lesbian sexual behavior is illegal in some states, and the stresses associated with all of these factors. However, little is known about the specific impact of these risk factors on lesbian health and even less about any unique protective factors and how they may operate.

Research 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



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