What holds us back?
“Thinking about discussing sex is more frightening than actually doing it,
and the reactions we’re fearful of very rarely occur.”
Dr Daniel Atkinson GP
Talking about sex in the work environment may not always seem easy. A 2012 paper Why don’t healthcare professionals talk about sex? concluded that only 6% initiated discussions on a frequent basis.
As professionals, we may hold back because of:
• feeling embarrassed — whereas given the professional setting, there is no need for embarrassment
• feeling there’s no time — in fact, the average consultation on sexual matters takes only a few minutes
• not wanting to offend the client or to seem nosey — whereas clients are often very relieved that the topic of sex has been raised
• being worried that a sexual conversation might be misconstrued — if in doubt a chaperone can be invited into the room
• not believing there’s a solution to the client’s problem — in fact there may be many solutions, both medical and therapeutic
• thinking we lack knowledge — whereas acting as a gatekeeper for signposting or a further referral is often all that is needed
• thinking the client should start the conversation – whereas in fact….
Patients and clients may hold back because of their own issues:
• feeling embarrassed, inhibited, guilty or having no self-confidence
• shame at being sexual, for example because they are female, older, feel unattractive or are strictly religious
• believing they should be able to sort out their own problems
• thinking the health professional might disapprove
• not realising that everything is confidential (if legal)
• not believing there’s a solution to their problem
• not feeling entitled to have sex
• thinking the health professional should start the conversation
Remember that not talking about sexual symptoms during a consultation, may not only be denying clients support and help. It may also deny health professionals a full picture of the clients’ condition which might enable a full diagnosis and suitable treatment. (It is also illegal and discriminatory to deny disabled people the same opportunities as everyone else).
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