You and your doctor are a team. The doctor is trained to know about the workings of the body and you provide the personal details for diagnosis and care. Without the details, the doctor can’t provide you with thorough treatment. Easy enough for the mystery bump on your arm, but when it comes to talking about sexual health, it might not be so straightforward.
Talking about sex related details can be a challenge- it’s very intimate stuff. Telling a doctor graphic specifics about your sexuality can be embarrassing and awkward because you’re aware that the doctor has to think about what you’re doing in bed. There’s a power imbalance going on- the doctor is the professional with power, and you’re the patient in the nude, metaphorically and literally. It will be just as embarrassing, and possibly worse, to go see your doctor for help after you have caught an STI.
If the doctor is our age or younger, it can add to the awkwardness. We’re moving into a time in our lives where this will gradually happen more. What we need to keep in mind is that these are our bodies and we have a lifetime of experience in them. We need to use our learned experiences to talk to the doctor and explore our questions with dignity. It’s the job the docs signed on for and they too should approach it that way.
Ensuring you’re being tested and treated for sexually transmitted infections and assessed for possible cancers (breast, cervical) is essential in looking after yourself. Get screened for STIs when you have a new sex partner (ideally, before you begin having sex) lets you know where you stand (and where they stand), and can also be a good place to start communicating with your partner about safer sex. The request may feel awkward, like a teenager asking for birth control, but explaining to your doctor that you’re in a new relationship (or interested in one) and want to ensure you’re knowledgeable about your health status will likely earn you more respect.
HIV may be one of the STIs you should consider testing for. If you’ve looked at the HIV transmission equation and think you’ve been at risk, a test can tell you for sure. Some doctors who have long-term patient relationships or think they know you well might be surprised if you ask for an HIV test. If you’re discouraged from any kind of STI testing, (it’s happened to other women), speak up! It’s your body. Or if this is the final thing in a series of disappointments, perhaps it’s time to look for a new doctor.
A dip in sexual desire and decreased vaginal lubrication are common once we reach our 40s and move through perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause) and beyond. Using a vaginal lubricant (lube) like K-Y or Astroglide will enhance your sexual experience. If over the counter lubricants don’t help, you can ask about a prescription option.
Doctors can be our allies, advocates, and caregivers. Their responsibility is to provide us with the best care suited to our situations. They have the skills to care for us, and we need to provide them with the information they need so they can do so. Doctors are human, and may also wish to avoid uncomfortable discussion. While some uncomfortable moments can arise in talking about the intimate details of sexuality, we must be our own best advocates.
Youshouldknow.ca: sexual health news, views and science for women in perimenopause and beyond. Find info on preventing sexually transmitted infections, aging considerations, and relationship dynamics. Supportive information for all of us as we move into our middle years with partners new and old.
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