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Shouldn't your doctor talk about sexual health too?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Survey finds too few gynecologists talk about sexual health to women.

When you go to your doctor, you can expect a variety of questions during your checkup. A new study shows what's missing from most physician's dialogue is talk about sexual health. In surveys, too few obstetricians and gynecologists said they discuss sexual health with their patients. Sex seems to be a subject that is barely touched upon in the doctor’s office.

Lack of training or discomfort?

The study authors suggest doctors don’t talk about sexual issues with patients because they either lack training or are embarrassed.

The new report, "What We Don't Talk about When We Don't Talk about Sex," highlights why doctors don’t talk about sex with their patients.

The study, conducted by University of Chicago researchers, found that almost 2/3 of obstetrician/gynecologists will ask female patients if they are sexually active but only 40% ask if women are having any problems with sex.

From surveys the researchers also found only 29% of doctors ask women if they’re satisfied with their sex lives and just 28% confirm their patient’s sexual orientation.

The finding is important because reports indicate many women aren’t happy with their sex lives and many experience sexual dysfunction that might include painful intercourse and lack of desire for sex.

Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine, and the study's lead author said in a press release, "Sexuality is a key component of a woman's physical and psychological health.

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Obviously, OB-GYNs are well positioned among all physicians to address female sexual concerns. Simply asking a patient if she's sexually active does not tell us whether she has good sexual function or changes in her sexual function that could indicate underlying problems."

The study is the first to show that doctors are only focused on certain aspects of history taking about their patients’ sex life, even though one-third of young and middle-age women and half of older women experience some sort of sexual dysfunction.

Lindau said patients are reluctant to bring up the subject. She advises that physicians should take the lead about sexual health. Sexual dysfunction can lead to feelings of shame, isolation and guilt and put a strain on relationships.

Some women are dealing with sexual problems from treatment for other conditions that range from depression to breast cancer. Talking about sexual side effects of medications that are becoming more commonly used among younger women could help them cope, Lindau says.

Janelle Sobecki, MA, who is second-year medical student at Wayne State University said doctors might worry they’ll embarrass or offend patients if they ask questions.

Another explanation doctors might not talk to you about sex is because they don’t know enough about female sexual problems. For example: Compared to what clinicians know about how prostate cancer treatment affects men, little is known about what happens to a woman’s libido after breast cancer treatment.

If sex talk isn’t on your doctor’s checkup list, Landau says “go ahead and give it a try”. Otherwise, it might never happen.

Journal of Sexual Medicine
'What we don't talk about when we don't talk about sex'
DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02702.x
Janelle N. Sobecki MA, et al.
March 22, 2012

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