Lesbians get a second sex clinic

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The Independent Online
A SEXUAL HEALTH clinic for lesbians is to open at an NHS Trust next week, providing screening for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical smears, HIV-testing, breast examination and free safe-sex aids.

The Audre Lorde clinic is funded by the North East Thames regional health authority and will operate at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. It follows the success of what is thought to be Britain's one other lesbian-only service, which opened last year at the Charing Cross Hospital in west London.

Dr Jayne Kavanagh, co-founder of both, said the clinics, staffed by women only, were needed 'to provide a environment in which lesbians feel safe. There is an assumption that lesbians are a low-risk group for sexually transmitted diseases'.

Equally, she said, some believed they did not require routine cervical smears. 'These can be dangerously false assumptions, especially as many lesbians have had a heterosexual past.'

Asked why lesbians needed a special clinic when homosexual men used normal genito-urinary medicine departments, Dr Kavanagh said men were not frightened of sexually-transmitted disease clinics, 'which are renowned for being gay-friendly. STD clinics are much less aware of lesbian needs'. That such needs existed was shown by the two-month waiting list at the Charing Cross clinic, she added.

'This is all about raising awareness and making sure that people realise that not every woman who comes to a clinic is heterosexual,' she said.

That was important for tracing contacts, as well as for the women concerned. Once the issues were understood by doctors and others, 'then we won't have any need for a special clinic', Dr Kavanagh said.