February 12, 2013
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago found that only 60% of OBGYN’s ask questions about their patient’s sexual activities sex during medical visits. They also found that many OBGYN’s knew very little about their patients’ sexual behavior, sexual satisfaction and even sexual orientation.
Why are women not discussing their sexual lives with their physicians? According to the researchers, the reasons may be that 1) physicians do not ask and 2) patients do not bring their sexual activities up as points of concern.
Discussing sexual health with your physician is important, because changes in sexual functioning or behaviors can help the doctor identify other health problems that could escalate if left diagnosed and untreated. For example. HIV/ AIDS tests are also not always routinely given to all women and when a doctor knows about your sexual health, they may know when to recommend you take one. This is particularly important as rates of HIV infection among African American and Hispanics women are much higher than those found in white women. Sixty-four percent of women with HIV are Black. And HIV infection is among the top 10 leading causes of death for Black females.
Some tips to help you have discussions about your sex life with your doctor are.
- Find a doctor you can trust. Many women settle for the provider that is given to them by their insurance company, but finding a good doctor is sometimes like dating. You must think of what characteristics and work practices you need in a provider that will compliment your needs. If you cannot trust you doctor, you might not feel comfortable discussing everything with your doctor and you may be putting your health at risk. If one relationship is not working, find a new one.
- Do not limit your discussions of sexual behavior to your OBGYN, you might find that you are more comfortable talking about your sex life with your primary care doctor. You might also feel more comfortable discussing some concerns with a therapist or psychological professional. For example, concerns such as coping with sexual abuse, suspecting that your long-term partner is unfaithful, becoming dissatisfied with sex or having multiple simultaneous sexual partners can all affect your health. For each of the above concerns, your health care provider or team can provide support and recommend appropriate treatments.
- Keep track of your sexual behavior, functioning and questions. Bringing a record of concerns related to your sexual health to your physician can help start the conversation and may help your diagnosis better treat you. Remember, it is OK to ask that certain types of information remain conversational and not become parts of the medical record.
- Seek care and stay up to date with routine care activities. If you have a long-term relationship with the same care provider, it will be easier to discuss your sex life and it will be easier for that provider to identify changes in your sexual behavior and find solutions to help you.
Sobecki JN, Curlin FA, Rasinski KA, Lindau ST. What We Don't Talk about When We Don't Talk about Sex1: Results of a National Survey of U.S. Obstetrician/Gynecologists. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2012;9(5):1285-94.
Dr. Heather Watts, a liaison member to ACOG's Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women
Most women are infected with HIV through heterosexual sex. Some women become infected because they may be unaware of a male partner’s risk factors for HIV infection or have a lack of HIV knowledge and lower perception of risk. Relationship dynamics also play a role. For example, some women may not insist on condom use because they fear that their partner will physically abuse or leave them. (source: http://www.cdc.gov)
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In Partnership with: Poole College of Management, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Science Foundation, Penn State