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Taking a Mind/Body Approach to Sexual Medicine

02/14/2014

Taking a Mind/Body Approach to Sexual Medicine By: Dr. Laura Berman

According to data from the National Health and Social Life Survey, 31% of men and 43% of women suffer from sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction can be traced back to physical, emotional, and relationship factors, and that is why it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. (Some common culprits behind sexual dysfunction include hormonal issues, medications,  stress, depression, medical conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, past sexual trauma, lack of trust/connection in a relationship, and poor health overall.) Symptoms of sexual dysfunction can range from low libido to erectile dysfunction to difficulty reaching orgasm to lack of lubrication.

Unfortunately, sexual dysfunction often causes symptoms outside the bedroom as well. A poor sex life can do a number on a person’s self-esteem and on their relationship. When sex disappears from a marriage, a couple’s emotional connection and communication tends to suffer as well. Resentment and hurt feelings can easily grow, especially because people tend to draw away from a relationship when sexual dysfunction occurs. This is especially true for men. Erectile dysfunction can be very embarrassing and shaming to men, and rather than take the risk of ED occurring (or worse, having to talk about it), they simply shun sexual activity all together and ignore their partner’s advances. This can make their partner feel very angry as well as confused, as she wonders “Is he no longer attracted to me? Is he seeing someone else?” It’s easy to see how sexual dysfunction can take on a life of its own and slowly destroy an otherwise happy relationship.

A poor sex life is also problematic from a physical standpoint as well. People who have regular sex enjoy better health than people who do not. Frequent sex has been shown to improve one’s immune system by 33%, decrease one’s risk of heart disease by 50%, relieve pain such as headaches and menstrual cramps, and even decrease stress and insomnia. It’s a good source of cardiovascular exercise as well as a good way to improve blood flow to the genitals (which will, in turn, help inspire improved sexual function and pleasure down the road.)

Despite all of this, the reality is that most people don’t talk to their healthcare providers about their sex life. And, many doctors don’t broach the topic with their patients either. This can mean that sexual dysfunction is never addressed or discussed in a medical setting, leaving patients to fend for themselves when grappling with these complicated issues.

Women in particular seem to be left out in the cold when it comes to treating sexual dysfunction. Research has shown that women tend to be the main instigators when it comes to being their family’s medical caretaker—they make the appointments with the doctors/dentists, and they encourage their partner to attend the appointments and make healthy lifestyle choices. When women take the lead like this and even attend doctor’s appointments with their mates, it can have a good prognosis for their partner’s health and their ability and willingness to discuss their sexual dysfunction. However, when it is the woman suffering from sexual dysfunction, who is taking her hand and encouraging her to see the doctor? Women are often so busy taking care of everyone else in their family that they forget to take care of themselves, and this is especially true when it comes to sexual pleasure, as they reason “It’s just sex, it’s not that important” or “I’m just getting older” or “I’m not a sexual person anymore.” This is why it is so crucial for doctors to make sure that they are proactive when it comes to asking their patients about their sex lives and any sexual dysfunction symptoms such as low libido and lack of lubrication.

Of course, there will be challenges when it comes to incorporating sexual medicine into a medical practice that doesn’t specialize in this area. However, there are many ways to help smooth the transition and begin including sexual medicine under the general medicine umbrella. The managed care environment can create some difficulties when it comes to having enough time to make a solid diagnosis and treatment plan, but there are several helpful strategies which I will cover in my upcoming talk to help troubleshoot these issues. Everyone needs and deserves a healthy sex life…and sometimes they need a little assistance from their healthcare providers in order to ensure that sexual pleasure stays intact.

Dr. Laura Berman will be speaking at our Contraceptive Technology conference in Boston, MA (on April 9-12) and Atlanta, GA (on October 30-November 1)! Our Contraceptive Technology Boston conference will also be available via live webcast! Learn more about these conferences at http://bit.ly/1d0caO1.

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