Out at the Doctor’s Office
Whenever teenagers get a check-up, there’s always that dreaded moment when the doctor asks “Are you sexually active?”…Awkward. Now, just so we’re all clear, this question is awkward for everyone – even cis-gender straight kids have trouble talking about sexytime with their doctors. But, for LGBT folks, this question raises a whole new level of concern. When I saw my pediatrician, I always answered “Nope!” and then sat through a tense moment of silence hoping she didn’t see through my quick response and Justin Beiber haircut. Yes, I had a girlfriend and I guess you could say we were “sexually active” but was that sex going to get me pregnant? Probably not. Did I want to hear a safe-sex speech about condoms and birth control? Definitely not. Did I think there was anything my doctor could tell me that I hadn’t learned from “The L Word”? Nope. So, I’m guessing like many other LGBT young people do, I lied to my pediatrician to avoid a very uncomfortable situation.
Looking back, there are a lot of things I wish 16 year-old me knew about patient-doctor communication, confidentiality, and LGBT health.
This summer, as an intern with IMPACT, I researched physician education of LGBT health issues and met some students and physicians who were open to learning more about LGBT health. For LGBT young people, this means go ahead and ask your doctor questions about your health. Even if your pediatrician doesn’t know the answer, they may be able to connect you with other resources (like these!). Back to the “sexually active” question – I learned in my research that most physicians are trained to follow up with “With men, women, or both?” This throws the proverbial closet door wide open for you to tell your pediatrician about that special someone or ask any other questions you might have.
Also, young people should know that legally, your pediatrician cannot tell your parents anything you say unless you are “a threat to yourself or others.” This means that, if you come out to your pediatrician, they should not tell your parents. There is always the chance that your pediatrician will react negatively or tell your parents anyways and, if that happens, you might want to consider finding a new physician. If you’re not sure your doctor will be supportive or have questions you would prefer answered elsewhere, contact your nearest LGBT Health Center. They can direct you to nearby resources!
I’ve also learned about reports that measure healthcare quality and equality for LGBT people. For example, the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index rates 407 hospitals on their care for LGBT patients based on anti-discrimination policies and physician education. The HRC also gives some great tips on coming out to your doctor and legal tips for same-sex families.
What’s most important is that you’re receiving health care that meets your needs and having open, honest communication with your physician can help. So, what does your doctor need to know about your sexual health?