3 Reasons Why Your Doctor May Ask Your Sexual Orientation

04/02/2015 05:47 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Recently, the state of Indiana passed a "religious freedom" law that has created backlash due to it allowing for private businesses to discriminate against gays. In today's society where some find it acceptable to create laws allowing businesses to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation, I feel it's especially important to know that others may need this information in order to help you.

Are you sexually active with men, women, or both?

This is a question that is asked of every new patient who comes to my office for a physical exam. An answer is not mandatory. I will provide you with the same quality care regardless of your answer, and even if you don't answer at all. I do not ask to be intrusive, offensive, or to refuse you care.

Rather, here are three reasons why it is important for me, as a physician, to know your sexual orientation.

1. Sexual health is important.

Your sexual practices, like many other health behaviors, can affect your physical and emotional well-being. As a physician, I want all of my patients to know that they can talk to me about health concerns that may be unique to their sexual orientation.

You should be as comfortable talking to your physician about sexual health issues as you are about allergies, headaches, or any other health problem you may have. If you're not, I suggest you find a new doctor. It is my hope that by asking your sexual orientation, you will know that not only do I avoid making assumptions that we all have the same sexual preferences, but that I also care about your sexual health.

2. Your sexual orientation may put you at higher risk for certain health conditions.

Certain health behaviors and medical conditions are more common among people who have same-sex partners. It is important for your physician to recognize and address these behaviors. The National Health Statistics Reports notes that behaviors such as smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption are more common in adults who identify as homosexual or bisexual. Gay and bisexual men are at higher risk for HIV as well as gonorrhea infections that are resistant to treatment by many antibiotics.

3. To provide accurate health and behavior counseling.

Lesbians, who are less likely to get pap smears, should be counseled that these cancer screening exams may still be important. Anal cancer is more common in gay men, and they may need to be counseled on the risks and benefits of an anal pap smear.

Depression and anxiety are more common in lesbian and bisexual women. And Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people are more likely to experience discrimination at work. This can have long-lasting effects on their mental health and must be addressed by their physicians by performing screening and offering counseling.

Cases where doctors refuse to treat patients based on their sexual orientation are too often in the news. Please know that there are many health care providers who are committed to meeting your health needs regardless of your sexual orientation.

So, let your doctor know if you are sexually active with men, women, or both. If you need help finding a LGBT friendly doctor, please visit the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association's Provider Directory.