BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com
Chances are, you haven’t talked to your doctor about sex lately, but you should: your sexual orientation, gender identity, relationships, body image, and sexual activities can all affect your physical and emotional health.
Physicians rarely bring up sex during office visits, other than to ask a basic question or two. They are focused on diagnosing and treating problems that have an immediate impact on your health, and many sexuality topics are out of their area of expertise and comfort.
Another issue is that physicians, like everyone else, act in accordance with their perceptions and assumptions. Your provider may assume you have all the information you need; that you either aren’t at risk for sexually transmitted infection or unintended pregnancy; that you know how to protect yourself; or that your levels of sexual function and pleasure are acceptable to you.
When it comes to talking about sex, you may need to take the lead. Don’t be embarrassed – if you can discuss your indigestion and bowel habits with your doctor, you can discuss sex! Here are some tips to get started:
• Don’t wait until your doctor is ready to leave the room before you bring up a sexual concern. Mention your question or concern at the start of your visit, in case the doctor needs to look at a specific part of your body to answer the question.
• Consider booking a second visit. Doctors have little time to spend with each patient, so they focus on acute health issues. Sexual concerns often take longer to discuss. To ensure that all of your concerns are addressed, schedule a visit specifically related to your sexual questions and concerns. If it’s an urgent matter, let the doctor know at the first visit.
• Acknowledge that sexuality may be a difficult topic to discuss, but it’s important to you. If your doctor can’t give you useful answers or seems judgmental, find another doctor. Urologists treat male sexual concerns; gynecologists treat female sexual concerns.
• Ask your doctor to alert you to possible sexual side effects of medications, treatments, and surgeries.
• Be honest about the sexual activities you participate in, so your sexual health risks can be appropriately assessed and you can be tested and treated for sexually transmitted infection (STI) or unintended pregnancy. People of any orientation may enjoy oral sex, body rubbing, anal sex, mutual masturbation, etc., so a discussion of your sexual activities will not reveal your orientation unless you choose to disclose it.
• Ask about sexual activities that may affect pre-existing medical conditions. If you have circulatory problems, being tied up could be risky. If you have heart problems, physically stressful sex may need to be modified. If you have blood-clotting issues, you may need to avoid activities that could break the skin. If you have multiple partners, you are at higher risk for STIs. If your doctor can’t suggest satisfying modifications, seek out a sexuality educator or occupational therapist who can help you find ways to enjoy your favorite activities.
• If you have psychological and relationship concerns, consider seeing a sex therapist. If you need information and practical solutions/skills, see a sexuality. You can find certified sex therapists and sexuality educators at www.AASECT.org
MELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis