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Patient Sexual History Key to Good Ob-Gyn Care

Yet doctors often fail to bring up women's sexual concerns, study finds

FRIDAY, March 23, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Many U.S. obstetrician-gynecologists fail to ask patients enough questions about their sex lives, which means they could lack information that provides insight into their patients' overall health, according to a new study.

The national survey of ob-gyns found that nearly two-thirds of them routinely ask patients about their sexual activity. However, only 40 percent routinely ask questions to assess a patient's sexual problems or dysfunction; only 29 percent routinely ask patients about satisfaction with their sex lives, and only 28 percent consistently confirm a patient's sexual orientation.

There's a well-established link between sexual function and overall health, and these findings point to the need for stronger guidelines for doctors on gathering a thorough sexual history from patients, the University of Chicago researchers said.

"As a practicing ob-gyn, many of my patients say I'm the first physician to talk with them about sexual issues," lead author Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, said in a University of Chicago Medical Center news release.

"Sexuality is a key component of a woman's physical and psychological health. Obviously, ob-gyns are well positioned among all physicians to address female sexual 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," she explained.

About one-third of young and middle-age women and about half of older women experience some sort of sexual problem, such as low desire, pain during intercourse or lack of pleasure, according to recent studies. These problems can lead to strained relationships and feelings of worry, shame, guilt and isolation.

If a doctor doesn't ask women about their sex lives, patients often assume the door is closed to that topic.

"Many women are suffering in silence," Lindau said. "Patients are often reluctant to bring up sexual difficulties because of fear the physician will be embarrassed or will dismiss their concerns. Doctors should be taking the lead. Sexual history taking is a fundamental part of gynecologic care. Understanding a patient's sexual function rounds out the picture of her overall health and can reveal underlying issues that may otherwise be overlooked."

The study was published March 22 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about sexual health.

SOURCE: University of Chicago Medical Center, news release, March 22, 2012
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