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Friday, Nov. 2, 2012

Your Doctor Might Not Know As Much About Sex As You Think

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 Last week, I co-presented at Thrive: The Integrative Conference for Women’s Health with a doctor from Froedtert’s Women’s Incontinence and Sexual Health (WISH) Clinic. Our goal: to talk to health care providers about approaching women’s concerns about sex (such as lack of desire, pain during sex, or difficulty with orgasm) in a holistic, supportive way.

During the conference, several clinicians mentioned to me how little training they received about sex. You can get through medical school and your residency with just a couple of hours of education about normal sexual functioning or common sexual problems. Yet, many people view their doctors as authorities about sexual health. And we need them: There are some sex issues that can be greatly improved through competent medical care.

Some doctors care enough to educate themselves about sexuality and truly listen to their patients, admitting when they don’t know enough about a particular issue and working with their patients to do research on the best, least invasive ways to treat a problem (I’ve been really impressed with the clinicians at the WISH Clinic, with whom we’ve worked on several occasions. And one program that is working to help clinicians educate themselves is the AMSA Sexual Health Scholars Program). Others have all the same prejudices, misconceptions and intolerant attitudes as anyone else in our society.

You have a right to be treated with respect and dignity by your health care provider and to have your sexuality-related questions answered honestly and non-judgmentally (this is especially true if you are queer, trans, polyamorous or not in a monogamous relationship, kinky, fat, old or disabled). During our session at the conference, we encouraged attendees to look at sexual questions holistically, not just thinking about patients’ genitals or even just the physical body, but everything else going on in patients’ lives and the mind-body connection: How might stress be affecting someone’s sex life? How well are they able to communicate with their partner(s)? Sometimes a solution to a problem can be worked out without medication or medical intervention.

We also talked about how important it is to validate a patient’s concerns without shaming. For instance, many women have difficulty having an orgasm. Letting patients know that this is common, that it doesn’t mean they’re “broken” or defective, that it’s OK to use a vibrator or to take longer than a male partner does, or even to say that sexual satisfaction can be measured through things other than orgasm—these statements, coming from a health care provider, can mean a lot.

Laura Anne Stuart owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. She has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than 15 years. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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