China has opened its first help line offering counselling for lesbians.

The service, funded by the Chi Heng Foundation, will offer counselling and advice from a ream of 10 volunteers.

It echoes a similar service set up earlier this year which was staffed by men, but this scheme shows a growing awareness of lesbian issues in the traditionally conservative country.

The Chi Heng Foundation’s Rager Sheng told the Associated Press: “Lesbians would feel uncomfortable talking with men about their private issues, so we just wanted to have a try at setting up a fixed period of time exclusively for women.

“Our society pays much less attention to lesbians because they are not the high-risk population for AIDS. But they do have a lot of psychological problems.

The Shanghai based help-line opens this weekend.

Although homosexuality in China is no longer considered a mental illness, it is still considered a taboo issue.

Recently sociologists have called for the country to support gay marriage arguing it would promote stable relationships and safe sex that could help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.