Almost 70% of lesbians delay coming out due to ‘harmful stereotypes’, study finds

Lesbian Flag Flying

Over two-thirds of lesbians say they delayed coming out due to negative stereotypes, a new study has found.


25 April is the beginning of Lesbian Visibility Week , marked annually between 25 April and 1 May to coincide with Lesbian Visibility Day (founded 2008) on 26 April.

The aim of Lesbian Visibility Week is to celebrate all lesbian identities, increase awareness of the issues they face in society, and to show solidarity with all LGBTQI women and non binary people in our community. 

New research, conduced by Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, has revealed large numbers of young people across the UK still delay coming out as lesbian due to ‘harmful’ stereotypes.


Surveying 643 lesbians in the UK ahead of Lesbian Visibility Week, results showed that 68% feared they would be perceived as ‘man-hating’, ‘over-sexualised’ or ‘anti-trans’.


The overall top two reasons for lesbians delaying coming out showed 30% of respondents feared being viewed as ‘cringey or awkward’, while 24% worried they would be viewed as ‘wrong’.


This was followed by lesbians being stereotyped as ‘taboo’ (23%), ‘embarrassing’ (23%), ‘masculine or butch’ (22%), ‘over-sexualised’ (19%), ‘unattractive’ (16%), ‘man-hating’ (12%), ‘old-fashioned’ (9%) and ‘anti-trans’ (4%).


Over-sexualisation was the biggest barrier to coming out for those aged 18 to 24, with thirty-six per cent – more than any other age group – citing this concern.


Overall figures showed one in 20 (4%) lesbians delayed coming out due to fear they could be seen as ‘anti-trans’, with this reason being cited by many in the 25-34 age category. This rises to 7% among lesbians aged 25 to 34.


Amy Ashenden, director of comms at Just Like Us, said of the findings: “It’s heartbreaking to see that the majority of lesbians are delaying living their lives to the fullest and feel unable to come out because of tired lesbophobic stereotypes that continue to be perpetuated, and this is something I regularly see lesbians struggling with.”

“It is especially sad to see that lesbians are delaying coming out because they fear being seen as butch, masculine and unattractive – societally there is a lot of work to be done around embracing women of all gender expressions and bringing positive messaging around being a butch lesbian to the forefront.”


 “These stereotypes are rooted in misogynistic ideas of what a woman should be and we can see the damaging effects of these stereotypes, particularly on young lesbians, in the research.”


Mara (they/ them), a Just Like Us ambassador.

“I came out as bisexual at 15, lesbian at 17, and non-binary at 19,” said Mara, a 20-year-old ambassador for Just Like Us, speaking as part of the research. “My high school experience was quite challenging at times, as the word lesbian was often used as an insult, so it was difficult to come to terms with being a lesbian when most of what I had heard about them was in a negative light. People would also often ask questions about my sexuality and try to assume things before I even properly knew myself. Boys would often try to ask rude questions, and girls would be disgusted at the idea of a lesbian.”


Pippa (she/they), a Just Like Us ambassador.

Pippa (she/they), a 25-year-old from London, says: “I started realising I was gay when I was 15, but didn’t really feel comfortable calling myself anything until I was 20. A lot of people made me think that I couldn’t be sure that I was gay, especially because I’d had a boyfriend before. I didn’t really know how to talk to people about it, because the word lesbian is so tied to sex and pornography that it always feels like calling yourself lesbian is the same as sharing details about your sex life.”


Niamh (she/her)

Niamh (she/her), a 23-year-old Just Like Us volunteer from Manchester, says: “I came out at 15 at school, 19 at home. Both times felt embarrassing. At school it was already a rumour, and I knew people would gossip about it, and they did. I was always scared it would get back to my sister who was at the same school. At home, I didn’t really want to tell my parents, but I felt like I had to, because that’s what’s expected.”


Previous research conducted by Just Like Us in 2021 showed that young lesbians are the most likely to face tension at home (61%), be lonely (87%) and say their mental health has worsened in the pandemic (78%) higher than any other identity under the LGBT+ umbrella.


To see the full 2022 report from Just Like Us, click here or use the link below.