When we have a cold, or the flu, or any kind of physical ailment, most of us will go and discuss the problem with our doctor. We will listen carefully and follow their instructions to ensure we do what is necessary to get better. Yet, there is one aspect of our health that we won’t discuss with our GP, and that doctors will seldom address… our sexual health.
Sexual health concerns can often point out other, more serious health conditions, before they actually become a problem. For example, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) may be a precursor to more serious cardiovascular disease. In fact, some men who experience erectile dysfunction will discover within five years that they are suffering with cardiovascular or heart diseases.
Australian research has shown that only 11.9 per cent of men who sought treatment for Erectile Dysfunction had actually received treatment. This means that either our GPs are ignoring our sexual health problems, or that we are too shy to talk about them with our doctor. Sadly, many men who do report Erectile Dysfunction with their doctor get a quick script for the little blue pill, and are sent on their way.
Doctors need to understand that when their male patients present with ED, they need to encourage further testing. As a sex therapist, I ensure that all my male clients with Erectile Dysfunction see their GP for further testing and this procedure should be mandatory for men reporting with erectile dysfunction.
Conversely, women who suffer with diabetes type two may see a decline in their sexual functioning, but due to shame or social conditioning, may not discuss this with their doctor. It is important to encourage GPs to ask their patients about their sexual wellbeing, particularly in relation to cardiovascular and blood diseases.
For women, menopause, depression, urinary tract infections and other symptoms may impact their sexual wellbeing. Though they will likely seek and receive treatment for their presenting concerns, few doctors will enquire about how such concerns may impact their sex life. Sexual health and wellbeing is associated with many lifestyle improvements, which makes it important for our doctors to have this discussion with their patients.
Many doctors identify limited time as the greatest obstacle to discussing sexual health. Other limitations include embarrassment (on the part of the physician or the patient), lack of effective treatment options, limited training in female sexual function, and reliance on patients to initiate the discussion. It is time that our GPs sought the necessary training to learn how to feel more comfortable in addressing the sexual health of their patients, rather than relying on their already distressed patients to feel comfortable enough to discuss it themselves.
Both patients and doctors need to increase their awareness of sexual health concerns and their significance. If doctors asked more questions about their patients sexual health, more people would get treatment or onward referrals for their sexual health concerns. Ensuring that both patients and doctors are aware of the significance of sexual health concerns is vital for overall health and wellbeing.
It is important to encourage men and women to seek help from their GPs regarding their sexual health earlier. This can be done through education and awareness campaigns, while educating GPs to initiate sexual health discussions with their patients and recommend further testing. Early intervention strategies for pre-diabetes and cardiovascular disease significantly reduce the incidence of disease development.