When the last time your doctor asked you about sex?
Well, if you’ve been seen at my office, it was probably at your very last visit!
It is estimated that approximately 43% of women in the United States today are experiencing some form of sexual problem, with lack of sexual desire as the leading issue. Yet, in exam rooms across our nation, physicians are not bringing up the topic of sex with their patients.
According to a new University of Chicago survey of more than 1,000 obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States, less than half of the physicians asked their patients about any sexual problems or dysfunction (1). Only two-thirds asked how sexually active their patients are and less than one-third asked their patients about sexual satisfaction. Results of the study were published in Journal of Sexual Medicine with specific results highlighting only 63% routinely asked patients about their sexual activities, with 40% asking about sexual problems, 28.5% asked about sexual satisfaction and approximately 14% asked about pleasure with sexual activity ( 1 in 10 never asked this question at all).
The study’s senior author and associate professor at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, Dr. Stacy Lindau, states “sexuality is a key component of a woman’s physical and
psychological health. 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 an underlying problem.”
Which physicians are most likely to bring us sexual issues?
Female physicians were more likely than male physicians to discuss sexual activity as well as sexual orientation and identity with female patients. Physicians practicing solely gynecology and not providing obstetrical services were also more likely to screen for sexual dysfunction. Physicians aged 60 years and older were found to be the least likely to discuss a patient’s sexual orientation or identity compared to their younger colleagues ( 11% vs 28% of those aged 46-59 vs. 32% aged 45 or younger.)
According to researchers, about 25 percent of the doctors said they have expressed disapproval of patients’ sexual practices; these were primarily doctors who were foreign medical graduates or ones
who considered religion the most important part of their lives. Those who indicated a Roman Catholic religious affiliation were significantly less likely than others in the survey to ask patients about sexual activities.
Why don’t patients bring up the topic?
“Patients are often reluctant to bring up sexual difficulties because of fear the physician will be embarrassed or will dismiss their concerns,” lead study author Dr. Lindau said. “Doctors should be taking the lead.”
What if your doctor isn’t taking the lead and bringing up sex?
5 Tips for Talking Sex with Your Doctor
1. Acknowledge your discomfort. Start the conversation with being honest about your uneasiness with this topic.
2. Approach it from the health perspective. Sexual issues can signal a larger health problem, such as thyroid disorders, depression, hormonal changes or issues with medications.
3. Write down your questions before your visit. By preparing ahead of time, you won’t forget what you want to ask or feel flustered during the exam.
4. Don’t be rushed. If you’re asking your physician about sexual issues as he/she is leaving the exam room, there won’t be enough time to discuss your concerns. Make a separate
appointment if you need to allow adequate time for this conversation.
5. Find the right doctor. This might be the most challenging of all of these tips. Ideally, you want a physician whom you can confide in, feel comfortable asking questions of, and feel “listened to”. Also, this physician should have the appropriate knowledge regarding sexual issues to help you. A physician who dismisses your concerns or makes you feel ashamed is not the health partner you desire.
You deserve the best quality health care and doctor available – don’t settle for anything less!
1. 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 Sobecki, MA, et al, March 22, 2012.