GCH Researcher Examines Unintended Pregnancy Risk Among Sexual Minority Women (SMW)

The United States has one of the highest unintended pregnancy rates in the industrialized world. From a public health perspective, these pregnancies can be problematic as they are associated with poor prenatal care resulting in premature birth, low-birth weight, and maternal depression.

Understanding factors contributing to unintended pregnancy can help public health officials design prevention programs and provide services appropriate for diverse populations. College of Health and Human Services faculty member, Dr. Lisa Lindley and her colleagues have been exploring unintended pregnancy risk among heterosexual and sexual minority women (SMW; women who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual) by different dimensions of sexual orientation (identity and attraction).

During the course of her research, Lindley found that incongruent SMW (women who identified as heterosexual, but had non-heterosexual attractions) had higher unintended pregnancy rates compared to heterosexual women (heterosexual in identity and attraction) and congruent SMW (non-heterosexual in identity and attraction).

While this research did not address health outcomes, sexual minority stress or stress from concealing sexual orientation and/or experiencing discrimination, have been associated with poor health. In particular, SMW experiencing stigma-related stress are more likely to have poor mental health outcomes and to engage in risky behavior. Lindley noted that “these women often start having sex at an earlier age and are more likely to have more male sex partners.”

The research highlights the need for healthcare providers to ask women questions about their sexual attractions, sexual behaviors with both male and female partners, and pregnancy intentions. Lindley suggested that “reproductive healthcare providers may need cultural competency training to better address SMW health needs.”