Having this conversation with patients can be intimidating for some, uncomfortable for many, and is often times left completely out of the scope of patient care. But sexual dysfunction and intimacy issues are highly important to ensure your patients, and all people, live a whole, balanced life.
Before beginning any conversation with your patients about their sexual dysfunction or intimacy issues, be sure you are comfortable and confident with your own feelings and knowledge on the topic. This helps to ensure that the conversation will flow smoothly, and the patient will leave feeling heard, educated, and supported.
When a patient opens up about their sexual dysfunction, understand how difficult it is for them to discuss and even ask about. Many patients wish that their medical care team would take the time to address these issues without having to ask questions. Medical providers and patient support staff are often not trained in sexual dysfunction issues, do not have an insurance billing code for their time spent, and do not know where to refer patients to get the help or advice they need to help address these issues.
Remember, there is no minimum or maximum age for sexual dysfunction issues. These issues can also be caused from a variety of reasons other than cancer and medical treatments. Take the time to help your patient find the root cause of their troubles and help them to get back on track.
The Best Ways to Support Your Patients when they Address Sexual Dysfunction
It is best that you be attentive, and consider the following things:
- Put down all tablets, electronics, and folders while listening to their questions
- Turn towards the patient and be direct
- Make eye contact
- Show empathy, even if the answers are not immediately known
It is important to remind the patient that they are not alone and that over 75% of cancer patients and survivors also deal with varying types of sexual dysfunction issues.
Other Important Pointers for Addressing Sexual Dysfunction
These tips can be beneficial for those medical care professionals who are addressing sexual dysfunction issues with their patients and their partners.
- Always use the inclusive term, “partner/s” when first addressing, unless you are fully aware of your patient’s spouse or partner. This ensures that the proper pronouns are followed for whatever type of relationship pairing they may have.
- If you are aware that you are dealing with a transgendered or nonbinary patient, simply ask them for their desired pronouns before you begin.
- Do not assume anything about your patient’s sexual desires or dysfunction.
- Pay close attention to your own body language and posturing. If you are not comfortable with something that your patient is asking or mentioning, do not let them on to this fact.
- If your patient seems reluctant to ask or answer a question, rephrase your question to help take the burden or judgment away from the topic.
How can I prepare for this conversation as a medical professional?
Depending on the level of your patient care and what types of diseases, cancer, or illness you are dealing with, you should educate yourself with knowledge about some of these common sexual dysfunction and intimacy issues for both males and females before these conversations start.
- Loss of Libido
- Pain with touch or sexual activity
- Vaginal atrophy
- Vaginal dryness
- Erectile Dysfunction- varying levels
- Prostate pain
- Relationship disconnect
- Loss of function
Conversation Starters for Medical Professionals
When the time comes to discuss sexual dysfunction possibilities with treatment, or those dysfunction issues that are already impacting your patients’ lives, consider these ice breakers:
- “I’m going to ask you a few questions about your sexual health now, as this is also an important aspect of whole-healing and living.”
- “Would it be okay if we covered a few common sexual dysfunction issues that may arise during your treatment?”
- “Are you and your partner connecting in the same ways that you did before your cancer/illness/treatment? If not, what is different?”
- “Before we begin, do you have any questions or sexual concerns that you would like to address?”
- “In the past three months, what types of sex have you had?”
- Anal? Vaginal? Oral? (Knowing this helps to address safety with intimate acts.)
- “Are you aware that while on chemotherapy and radiation that you should be practicing safe sex with any partner you have? Including oral sex, and any act where bodily fluids are shared?”
For some medical professionals, or for those doctors and nurses who have a great rapport with their patients, a more direct way may be advisable. If the patient is comfortable and open about most all topics, simply asking, “Are you experiencing any sort of sexual dysfunction or loss of libido?” would probably do the trick and get conversations started.
Just as with many subjects in life, knowledge is power! Ensuring that you are aware of options for sexual dysfunction can help you to have better relationships with your patients and be able to guide them when they have issues with their intimate lives.
If you or your practice is at a loss on where to direct patients when dealing with sexual dysfunction or intimacy issues, please send them over to our experts here at Reclaiming Intimacy!