How to Talk to Your Doctor About Sex
Today, people are more open about sexual health than they used to be. In previous decades, sexual puritanism was so strongly ingrained into society that it was woven into the law. One example of this is that birth control was illegal in the United States until 1965, when the Supreme Court legalized it in the Griswold v. Connecticut case—but only for married couples! It wasn't until 1972 that the Supreme Court legalized birth control for everyone, regardless of whether they were married.
Over 40 years have passed since then and sexual health is a much more accepted topic of discourse. Nevertheless, although most people aren't morally opposed to talking about sex with their doctor, many still feel a sense of personal embarrassment when the issue comes up.
Why Are People Hesitant to Talk About Sex?
Reasons for feeling embarrassed or inhibited can vary. You might avoid talking to your doctor about sex because you don't want to embarrass him or her. You might feel that sexual problems like low libido are your own burden to bear, and don't want to annoy your doctor by talking about them. Some people may even worry that their healthcare practitioner will judge them or otherwise disapprove of their sexual activity, perhaps because of their sexual orientation, their number of sexual partners, or because they are a minor. Some of these concerns may be valid, but nevertheless the worrying associated with talking to your doctor about sex is usually unnecessarily blown out of proportion.
The embarrassment around talking about sex in a medical setting goes both ways. Your doctor may be hesitant to ask you about your sex life because he or she doesn't want to embarrass you or make you feel uncomfortable. One study found that only six percent of healthcare practitioners initiate conversations about sexual health on a regular basis. Similarly, another study found that although two-thirds of OBGYNs regularly ask their patients about their sexual activity, only 40 percent ask their patients if they have sexual problems, and only 29 percent ask about their sexual satisfaction.
As a patient, it's common to not want to talk to your doctor about sex. Doctors are also hesitant. This means that the doctor and patient each expect the other to initiate the conversation, which can lead to the conversation never taking place.
Don't Be Afraid to Talk to Your Doctor About Sex
Sexual health concerns are perfectly normal, and they're truly nothing to be embarrassed about. Statistics show that as many as 31 percent of men and 43 percent of women experience some type of sexual dysfunction. One in 20 40-year-old men have erectile dysfunction, and up to one in four 65-year-old-men experience it. Sexual problems like low libido and erectile dysfunction are completely common, and your doctor is probably used to hearing these concerns from other patients.
You may be especially embarrassed to talk to your doctor if you think you may have a sexually transmitted disease. The stigma of STDs is largely undeserved, as over half of all people will have an STD at some point in their life. Venereal disease can lead to unpleasant, even deadly, complications. Unfortunately, only about one-third of doctors routinely screen their patients for these diseases. Therefore, it's especially important to not let embarrassment keep you from talking to your doctor if you think you may have an STD.
Even if you don't have any current sexual health concerns, you can still talk to your doctor. Sexual education is very important, no matter who you are. Not everyone receives good sex education when they're in school, especially if they are older. Perhaps you'd like more information on STDs, reliable birth control, increasing fertility, or something else related to sexual health. Remember that you can also talk to your doctor if you simply want to learn more—educating you is one of your doctor's responsibilities, alongside actually treating you.
Sexuality is simply another important aspect of our overall health, and it should be treated as such. If you have a concern about sexual health, bite the bullet and talk to your doctor. This is important because if you don't speak up, your issue could never be resolved. It's probably better to live through a few moments of embarrassment than to prolong any sexual issues you have. Your anxieties of having an awkward conversation or being judged are normal, but most likely won't happen. Your doctor is there to help you.