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Lesbian women could be putting their health at risk by not getting pap smears, a new study has found. The University of Sydney has found that the "urban myth" that lesbian women don't require the tests because they don't have sex with men could be damaging their health.

The researchers found that as well as fewer lesbian women getting pap smears than bisexual or queer women, they also tend to get tested less for sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). This could risk them passing on STIs to other women via sexual contact.

The team from the University of Sydney looked at data from 379 women aged between 17 and 30, which was taken during Sydney Mardi Gras in 2010 and 2012. It was found that queer women - those who do not identify as bisexual or lesbian - were most proactive about their health.

Some 58.3 per cent of bisexual women respondents said they had been tested for STIs at least once, while just over half (52.9 per cent) of lesbian women said the same thing. It was also found that 65.2 per cent of lesbian women had received a pap smear, in comparison to 70.8 per cent of bisexual and 79.4 per cent of queer women.

Most commonly, women contract the HPV virus through sex with a man, although it can be spread via genital-to-skin contact or sex toys. HPV can lead to cervical cancer, making pap smears an important part of women's health, whether they have sex with men or not.

Dr Julie Mooney-Somers, one of the study's authors and lecturer at the University of Sydney, said that the fact that 60 per cent of lesbian women had had sex with men in the past is another reason they should get tested.

“It’s become a bit of an urban myth that women who don’t have sex with men don’t need pap smears, and this is one of the real frustrations about working in this area,” she said.

“Lesbian women also don’t usually need access to contraception so they’re not having those opportunistic discussions with their doctors about screening.”