Having “The Talk”—with Your Doctor

Just when you thought you were home free—the kids are grown, and you’ve somehow gotten through multiple birds-and-bees talks. But now you find the shoe is on the other foot, and you’re the one needing information about sex. Maybe a health issue is affecting your sex life, or maybe your body is responding differently, or maybe you’re just not as responsive as you used to be. Where do you go for straight talk about these nitty-gritty topics?

According to a presentation I heard at the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) conference “physicians often do not talk to their patients about sex.” It occurred to me that the effect of this oversight is similar to neglecting the “talk” with our kids, i.e. you end up muddling along with misinformation, rumors, or half-truths.

Oddly, doctors cite similar reasons (excuses?) as the rest of us for avoiding the “talk” with their patients: They don’t have time; they don’t feel comfortable; they don’t know enough about this medical subspecialty to feel competent and helpful.

To be honest, doctors do operate under very tight time constraints in the course of a normal day. Also, sometimes, after talking about health and body parts for years, we forget how uncomfortable it might be for you to bring up what you consider an embarrassing problem. Rest assured, however, that we’ve probably discussed that problem before with someone.

None of this lets anyone off the hook. Sex is an important component to physical and mental health and well-being, and if you have questions or problems, who better to discuss them with than your doctor? If your doctor isn’t taking the initiative, here are some ways to help get the conversation started.

  • Write down your questions. This exercise may help you clarify what you want to talk about, and it will definitely help you to remember everything.
  • Prime the pump. At the beginning of your appointment, mention that you’d like to discuss some sexual issue that you’ve been experiencing. Or, get more specific—that you’d like to explore your options for vaginal lubricants or whether your medication might be diminishing your sexual interest.
  • Be clear, specific, and thorough. Don’t leave something out because it’s too embarrassing or doesn’t seem pertinent. You wouldn’t neglect to mention to your mechanic the little whirring noise in the rear axle when you turn left. Why would you omit an itch or pain or change you experience in your body?
Once you get over the initial hurdle of actually saying the S-word in front of your doctor, you may find it much easier to talk about sex the future. After all, as you told your children all those years ago, sex is just a natural part of life.

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