Should You Provide Sexuality Education to Your Patients?

Photo credit: Eva Blue

Photo credit: Eva Blue

It is a rare thing these days to receive comprehensive sex education from a health care practitioner. When it is offered, it’s typically limited to the health of sex organs. However, as Melanie Davis explains in the following article, sex and sexuality go beyond the biological. Crucial aspects of sexuality that influence one’s individual choices are often overlooked by health care providers- such as one’s degree of autonomy as well as knowledge about safer sex tools.

The article speaks to health care providers and offers concrete examples of how sexual health envelops aspects about identity, relationships, and intimacy- all of which impact a person’s overall health.

This article was originally published here.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

Physician involvement in sexuality education began in 1904, when dermatologist Prince Morrow, MD published Social Diseases and Marriage. His goal was to protect women whose husbands were bringing home sexually transmitted infections (then called venereal disease) from sex workers.

Sexuality education and medicine became more enmeshed when other physicians and the American Purity Alliance joined Morrow’s work to reduce STIs as a way to promote sexual morality. Today, healthcare providers don’t usually discuss sexual morality with patients, but you are an important source of information about sexuality.

Sexuality education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about identity, relationships, and intimacy. Sexual health and decision making are critical aspects of sexuality education, and you may have more opportunities to educate patients than you may realize.

The Breadth of Patient Sexuality

If you limit your exam room consultation to discussions of the function and health of sexual organs only, you risk missing out on information that could have an impact on a patient’s sexual health and overall wellness. There are five categories of sexuality that comprise every person’s sexual being:

  • Sensuality = awareness, acceptance and enjoyment of our own or others’ bodies.
  • Intimacy = the degree to which we express and have a need for closeness with another person.
  • Sexual identity = how we perceive ourselves as sexual beings in terms of sex, gender, orientation, expression.
  • Sexual health and reproduction = attitudes and behaviors toward our health and the potential consequences of vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse.
  • Sexualization = using sex or sexuality to influence, manipulate, or control others.

The area of sexuality in which healthcare providers address most often is sexual health and reproduction for two reasons: 1) It is where most acute medical issues fall, and 2) There are fewer gray areas that can be time-consuming to discuss. However, the other areas of sexuality are less concrete but equally important to discuss, as these examples illustrate:

  • Patients may avoid sexual intercourse or masturbation because they believe genitals are ugly or shameful.
  • Patients may not experience sexual pleasure because they don’t understand their sexual anatomy or the sexual response cycle.
  • A partner’s turn-ons may hurt your patient emotionally or physically.
  • A patient may be struggling with gender identity or sexual sexual identity.
  • A patient may be too embarrassed to disclose sexual coercion/abuse.
  • Research shows that patients often fear being judged by their providers or being embarrassed, so they may not bring up their concerns. Be sure to open the door to conversations about sexuality — One quick way to begin is to ask, “If there were anything you would change about your sex life?”

Contact me if you’re interested in learning more about essential, yet easy educational conversations you can have with patients about sexuality.

melanie_davisMELANIE 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