Desire. Sexual function. Contraception. Fertility.
These are all super important topics, not just for partner and relationship satisfaction, but for your general health, too. So you know what I’m going to say, right? Yes, these are issues that we should be bringing up with our healthcare providers. Yes, them. Your doctors.
Don’t believe me? Let’s think about the role these issues play in overall health:
Desire is the feeling of wanting; arousal is the feeling of being sexually stimulated. While desire and arousal are two different concepts, both can be impacted by chronic illness — physically and emotionally. The medications that you are on may impact desire, can impact genital blood flow, and can impact your self-esteem and body image. Your healthcare provider may know how to navigate these potential obstacles, or simply help you recognize them.
Sexual function is often ignored as a health issue; however, function (or lack thereof) can give cues about someone’s health. Sexual function is not limited to erectile quality or dysfuction; it includes: vaginal pain, dryness, orgasm or anorgasmia (inability to achieve orgasm), lubrication, etc.
Planning for a family – or the desire to avoid getting pregnant – are both crucial to personal health and are both areas where a healthcare provider should be intimately involved! Whether it’s finding the right contraceptive that works with your medications, or determining the first steps in planning for a family – your healthcare provider is your ally!
"While desire and arousal are two different concepts, both can be impacted by chronic illness — physically and emotionally."
Have I convinced you?
Now, I don’t want you to think that I am simply advocating this for people who have chronic illnesses; I am advocating this for everybody. Sexual health and function are a part of your overall health. There is no way to get the full picture of someone’s medical history if you ignore his/her sexuality and sexual life. I can see that there may be difficulty with this, especially if you’ve never talked about these issues with a healthcare provider before. If you’ve never spoken with your provider about sex before, this post should help you to initiate this dialogue.
- Before you engage in any conversation, it is probably best to think about whether or not you feel like your healthcare provider would be willing to talk to you about sexuality. Is he or she the kind of person who will make you feel supported during this discussion? If not, you may want to think about getting a new healthcare provider—or at the very least, meeting with another professional in the sexuality space like a sex therapist, sexual counselor, nurse practitioner, etc.
- Use me as a scapegoat. Next time you have an appointment, tell your healthcare provider that you read an article that stressed the importance of talking to healthcare providers about sexuality and sexual health. That should get the conversation started.
- If you feel like your healthcare provider will rush you through your appointment, call the office in advance and tell the staff that you are going to need a few extra minutes to talk. This way, time may be added to the appointment, and because you’ve already discussed it with the staff, you can’t run from the discussion.
- Own your discomfort. You don’t have to pretend like this is an easy conversation to have. Say out loud: “Doctor, this is hard for me to bring up, but…" This can help set you at ease for what comes next!
- If you are concerned that you will be too anxious to remember all of your questions, write them down in advance. During your appointment you can simply read from your notes.
I never want people to feel like they’re not entitled to talk about the medical issues that impact their sexuality. Your voice and your experience is important. You should always feel empowered to make your voice heard, whether it be in getting the treatment you request or the support services you deserve.