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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

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

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At a recent conference on women’s health, 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 has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the
Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side. During her time off to focus on Tool Shed, the Shepherd Express will be running the best of her advice columns from previous years.