Most women know the importance of breast self exams, annual gynecological checkups, and mammograms in middle age, but many women are often reluctant to talk about something that affects their health every day: sexual health and well-being. Though much stigma associated with women’s sexuality has evaporated over the past thirty years thanks to the women’s movement, many women are still uncomfortable talking about sex and may not believe that their sex life can paint an important picture of their overall health. Here’s everything you need to know to talk to your doctor about sex:
Why Sexual Health Is Important
Sex may seem like a luxury, especially to a busy woman, but the first clues to health problems-particularly reproductive ones- often show up in a woman’s sex life. Pain during intercourse can be a revealing indication of problems as innocuous as a yeast infection or as severe as cancer or pelvic inflammatory disease. Vaginal dryness can be another important indicator that something is amiss. Lifestyle factors like diet and stress and health issues can affect a woman’s ability to get wet. Any change in how sex works for you is an important issue to bring up, particularly with your gynecologist at your annual exam.
Tips For Talking to Your Doctor About Sex
Though the ideal doctor is one to whom a woman can tell anything, the reality is that, for most women, a doctor is a stranger she sees once a year. Thus it’s understandable that many women may feel uncomfortable bringing up sexual topics, but rest assured, your doctor has heard it all before. The best time to talk to your doctor is when you’re in a comfortable position and fully clothed, which can help you feel less vulnerable. Try starting the conversation with, “I’ve noticed a change since my last checkup…” or, “I’ve been having this symptom…” It can be especially helpful to provide clear information, so prepare for your appointment by tracking the problem. If, for example, you’re having pain after intercourse, keep a log of how frequently it happens. Is it every time or only at a certain point in your menstrual cycle? The frequency of and conditions surrounding a symptom can help a doctor more accurately pinpoint a diagnosis. Be sure to ask your doctor if there’s more information she needs from you, if there are particular symptoms you should keep an eye on, and if there are any lifestyle changes you should consider making.
How Your Doctor Can Help You
As mentioned above, symptoms of sexual dysfunction can be clues to the existence of an underlying illness. Obviously in this case your doctor is your number one source for getting treatment.
But what if the problem is something more mundane, like waning libido or concern about the appearance of your vagina? These are also concerns that should be discussed with your doctor, because a good doctor can help you make decisions that will make sex better. If you’re anxious about sex, a doctor can provide you a referral to an expert who can help you work through these issues. If, like many women, you’re concerned that something about you isn’t normal, your doctor can be a wonderful resource for explaining that you are normal and helping you get past inhibitions and discomfort. For victims of sexual trauma like rape, a conversation with a doctor can often be the first empowering step in moving from victim to survivor.
What If My Doctor Is Unhelpful or Dismissive?
If sex has become difficult for you, your periods or painful, or you’re having some other symptom related to reproductive health, your doctor needs to work with you to help you find a solution. Even if the problem is not symptomatic of an underlying illness, a good doctor will help you find solutions. With that said, some doctors may be rushed or may simply not take a problem seriously if it is not symptomatic of a serious illness. Every woman has the right to feel listened to and understood by her doctor. Remember that you are your doctor’s customer and have a right to top notch medical care. There is no better expert on what is normal for you than you, so don’t get discouraged or lose confidence if your doctor blows you off. Instead, it’s time to find another doctor.
The days of sex being shameful and secretive are long gone, and women have the right to a healthy and fulfilling sex life. Further, every woman has the right to decide what is healthy and fulfilling to her, and your doctor can be an amazing asset in helping you make these decisions. Talking to your doctor about sexual health can be an empowering experience that helps you gain knowledge, improve health, and feel more confident in your own skin.
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era
A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Health