Sexual Orientation

Sexual Orientation

Everyone has a sexual orientation. A woman who is attracted only to other women is called a lesbian: while women who are attracted to men are called heterosexual. A woman who is attracted to men and women is called bisexual.

Some women who are attracted to other women don't like these words or feel that they don't describe their experiences. Women may be attracted to different people at different stages of their lives. So a woman may live for many years as a lesbian and then become involved with a man, or a heterosexual woman may discover lesbian desires.

You may be sexually attracted to men, women or both. None of these attractions is right or wrong, although most Canadian women have been taught at least some negative things about being attracted to someone of the same sex. These negative attitudes are called homophobia. If you are attracted to women you will have to deal with your own homophobic feelings and beliefs. You will also have to deal with the negative beliefs and judgements of others including your family and friends. Many organizations provide information and support for lesbian and bisexual women confronting homophobia.

Women who are attracted to other women have a broad range of sexual and emotional relationships just as heterosexual (straight) women do. Some women live with a single partner for many years; others live independently relying on a social network of friends and lovers. Some lesbians choose to become mothers. Being a lesbian does not mean that you can't have the emotional or social relationships you want, although these relationships may sometimes be limited by homophobia.

Same-sex marriage was formally legalized across Canada by the Civil Marriage Act in July 2005. Court decisions, starting in 2003, had already legalized the issue of marriage licences to same-sex couples in eight out of 10 provinces and one of three territories, whose residents comprised about 90 percent of Canada's population. Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples in Canada since 1999.

Living in a homophobic society may also have a negative effect on the physical and emotional health of lesbian and bisexual women. Lesbians and bisexual women may:

* have higher levels of stress and depression
* be at risk for alcoholism
* not receive regular gynecological and medical care because they fear homophobic responses from health care providers

If a woman only has sex with other women, she does not need birth control, but she is still at risk of some sexually transmitted diseases. The following infections may result from sex between women:

* herpes
* genital warts
* crabs
* trichomonas
* bacterial vaginosis
* yeast infections
* very rarely, HIV may also be transmitted from one woman to another

Different sexual activities have different risks for infection.Other non-sexual activities, such as sharing needles to inject drugs, also increases a woman's risk of infection, regardless of her sexual orientation

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