Talking about sex can be a challenge—even more so when you’re sitting in a doctor’s office. You might feel uncomfortable telling your doctor about what goes on in your bedroom, particularly when you’re wearing nothing more than a paper gown. But it is helpful for you and your healthcare provider to remember that sexuality is a normal part of being human and your sexual health is part of your overall well-being.
“Sex plays a big role in your general health. It affects your mental health, your emotional health, even your own livelihood,” says Phillis Mims-Gillum, M.D., senior staff physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Henry Ford Health. “There really needs to be an open line of communication between women and their health care team.”
In fact, some might argue that a person’s sexual well-being is an important part of comprehensive health care, and it should be addressed like any other health measure. Both men and women may have concerns about sexual issues related to arousal, desire, pain or discomfort with sex and an inability to achieve orgasm. In spite of this, many people don’t discuss these issues with their partners, much less their doctors.
The good news: Once you start talking, you may realize it’s much easier than you thought. To give you a place to start, Dr. Mims-Gillum offers 5 suggestions to make discussions about sexual health more productive for you and your health care provider:
- Make a dedicated appointment. While you certainly may begin addressing your concerns during a routine annual or office visit, be open to scheduling a separate appointment or follow-up appointment to specifically focus on sexuality issues.
- Be direct. At the start of your visit, state that you have some sexual questions and concerns, and be prepared to tackle them. Not only will your provider appreciate your directness, but you’ll also benefit with more response time for your questions.
- Be open. Problems related to sexual function involve everything from your stress level to relationship satisfaction to medication side effects. With your doctor, you can explore all of the potential causes and ultimately find the best solution. So don’t shy away from addressing issues related to your relationships, upbringing, social and cultural beliefs and sexual history, as well as talking about contraception or any reproductive health concerns you may have.
- Do your homework. Write down your questions and concerns before your appointment. Pain during sex? Check out online resources including vaginismus.com. Inability to achieve orgasm? Write down the methods you’ve already tried. If you come prepared with background information, your provider will be better equipped to offer recommendations.
- Ask for a referral. Doctors don’t talk about sex for the same reasons patients don’t. They are unsure of what to say, or they don’t want to cross boundaries and risk asking questions the patient might consider inappropriate. If you (or your provider) are uncomfortable addressing sex, ask for a referral. Other providers or even specialists may be better equipped to address concerns of a sexual nature. Primary care physicians, gynecologists, pelvic floor physical therapists, sexuality educators, couples counselors, marriage and family therapists, sex counselors and sex therapists may offer help.
Most importantly, understand that sex is not just a physical act. It also affects your emotional, mental and social well-being. It is important, but it’s just one way you can maximize the joy in your life.
If you’re experiencing problems related to sex, discuss your concerns with a health professional. Remember, open conversations are important as you nurture your healthiest you.
Dr. Phillis Mims-Gillum is an OB/GYN who specializes in sexual health and sexuality counseling, and sees patients for these conditions at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Call (248) 661-6425 to schedule an appointment.