Search For a Provider Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube ES View the Patient Toolkit


Gynecologists and Sex Health Discussions

Apr 13, 2012

While sexuality is an important part of a woman’s overall health, obstetrician/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) aren’t thoroughly discussing it with their patients, according to a recent University of Chicago Medicine study.

Although 63% of physicians surveyed said they routinely asked patients about their sexual activity, fewer discussed other topics like sexual orientation or sexual dysfunction.

The study was published online in the March 22, 2012 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Researchers wanted to know more about how OB/GYNs communicated with their patients about sexual issues. To that end, they surveyed over 1,100 practicing OB/GYNs in the United States. The mean age of the group was 48 years and roughly half of the participants were male.

The doctors were asked how often they discussed sexual activities, orientation, satisfaction, pleasure, and problems with their patients. They were also asked whether they expressed disapproval of or disagreement with patients’ sexual activities.

In the end, the researchers found the following:

·         63% of the OB/GYNs surveyed discussed sexual activities.

·         40% routinely asked about sexual problems.

·         29% asked whether their patients were satisfied with sex.

·         28% asked about a patient’s sexual orientation or identity.

·         14% asked if patients had pleasure with sexual activity.

·         25% expressed disapproval of their patients’ sexual habits.

Doctors who focused more on gynecology tended to discuss a wider range of topics. OB/GYNs over age 60 were less likely to discuss sexual orientation and identity.

Why aren’t OB/GYNs discussing broader sexual health issues more often? In a press release, first author Janelle Sobecki, MA, said, “One explanation for the findings may be a deficit in physician training about diagnosis and treatment of female sexual problems. Like patients, physicians may worry that raising the topic could offend or embarrass the patient.” Ms. Sobecki is a second-year medical student at Wayne State University.

Lead author Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine, pointed out the importance of discussing sexuality as it relates to other medical concerns.

“Simply asking a patient if she’s sexually active does not tell us whether she has good sexual function or changes in her sexual function that could indicate underlying problems,” Dr. Lindau said in a press release.

For many women, sexual dysfunction leads to other problems, such as relationship issues, anxiety, shame, and guilt.

The study authors wrote that OB/GYNs are “well positioned among all physicians to address sexuality issues with female patients” and suggested that guidelines for taking a sexual history be reviewed.

Dr. Lindau also noted that patients should speak up if they feel their doctor isn’t addressing their sexual concerns. “If you have a doctor you trust who has not brought this topic up, give it a try. If you are waiting for the doctor to start the conversation, it may never happen. Communication is key,” she said.