Your embarrassing questions answered!
By Dhara Bhakta, MD
Q: How can I talk to my medical providers about my sexual concerns or issues?
A: Talking to medical providers about sexual health concerns isn’t something most people relish. To be honest, most medical providers are just as uncomfortable talking about sex as their patients are. There are a number of reasons for that. Chief among them is that few medical providers receive sexual health training as part of their medical education, so they feel out of their zone when sexual health issues come up.
Yet, sexual health is important to overall physical and psychological health. Medical providers understand that and want to support their patients’ well-being, so even if your doctor isn’t the best source for guidance on your sexual health concerns, consider that person a starting point.
How do you initiate the conversation?
First, don’t be shy. I know — not helpful, right? But seriously, to diffuse any discomfort on your part (or your doctor’s), be matter-of-fact. Talk about your sexual health concerns the same way you’d talk about any other health issue. How do you do that?
Practice at home.
This may sound silly, but saying the words to yourself in your head or, even better, out loud to yourself, a partner, or friend can normalize the words. Using anatomical terminology rather than slang may also tone down any anxiety you feel. If you’re not sure how to pronounce some of those terms, check an online dictionary that has audio pronunciation features.
The clearer you are about the issue you’re having, the easier your provider can address it. Here are some examples:
• “I’m concerned about discharge from my vagina. It seems thicker and smellier than usual.”
• “I like my partner to penetrate me from behind. After my hysterectomy, will I be able to have sex that way?”
• “My partner likes to be on top, but my back hurts. Is there something we can do to support my back so it won’t hurt or be injured?”
• “Can I still use a vibrator after I get a defibrillator for my heart?”
Write it down.
If you just can’t bring yourself to say the words out loud to your doctor, write them down on paper, and hand that paper to your doctor at your appointment. You can also send your questions to your provider electronically through a patient portal, if your provider’s office uses one.
Bring up your concerns early during your appointment. Appointments are often short, so make your issue the first thing you talk about. That way, you won’t run out of time.
If it’s obvious to you that your doctor isn’t the optimal source to address your sexual health concerns — they tell you so outright or give you a vague response, for example — ask if they can point you to other resources, either reputable online sources or another health provider, such as a physical therapist or sexologist (human sexuality specialists).
Remember, sexual health is human health. Though some of these topics may feel taboo, they can affect your overall health, so seek answers.
Dhara Bhakta, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) at Esperanza Health Centers’ Brighton Park campus. .