My patients can talk to me about anything, but they don’t always want to talk about everything ... including sex. For some people, talking about sex is difficult, and even feels shameful, though it shouldn’t be.
Of course, not wanting to talk about sex with your friends is your prerogative. But your doctor is one person you should be talking to about sex, especially if you have questions or concerns. Unfortunately, talking about sex is not always a priority for physicians either, unless it relates to your most urgent concerns.
It's important to remember that you can help steer the conversation during checkups with your doctor, preparing yourself with information and questions beforehand. So even if your doctor isn't inclined to bring up sexual health, you can.
With that, here are five reasons you should always talk to your doctor about sex, regardless of who brings it up:
1. Sex drive reflects overall health.
Pleasurable sexual activity, whether alone or with a partner, is good for us. It balances hormones and normalizes neurotransmitters that help regulate our metabolism. Good sex can also relieve stress, improve sleep, reduce your risk for heart disease, bolster self-esteem, and boost immunity.
While sexual desire is an important part of a healthy sex life and can be a sign of good overall health, the opposite is also true. When our bodies are compromised, our libido declines naturally as healing takes priority over reproduction.
An absence of sex drive can indicate underlying health problems that need to be addressed. These may include painful intercourse, erectile dysfunction, depression, diabetes, thyroid problems, cardiovascular disease, neurological conditions, arthritis, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia. Low libido may also be a red flag for excessive alcohol consumption or low self esteem, a consequence of smoking cigarettes or using recreational drugs, or an inability to manage chronic stress.
2. Sexual dysfunction may be a sign of hormone imbalance.
Sex hormones help regulate sexual desire and when they become unbalanced, changes in sexual function can follow. Hormone imbalances may be associated with certain medical conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), postpartum depression, low libido, and erectile dysfunction.
They may also be a result of exposure to chemicals in the environment like pesticides, bisphenol A (BPA), compounds in plastics, and many industrial pollutants. These toxins permeate our environment and they permeate our bodies. Their hormone-like activity can interfere with the synthesis, metabolism, and/or activity of the hormones we make ourselves, upsetting the natural balance inside our bodies.
3. A healthy sex life often means a healthy relationship.
Intimacy, affection, and emotional connection are essential for good health. Some experts believe that making them a priority is one of the most powerful things we can do to heal our bodies and prevent disease. Dr. Lissa Rankin has written extensively on the power of the mind to heal our bodies. In her TEDtalk, "Scientific Proof That We Can Heal Ourselves,” she even explains that "curing your loneliness may be the most important measure of prevention you can enact upon your body, more so than quitting smoking or starting to exercise."
While emotional connection isn’t always a component of sexual relationships, it often is, and an absence of sexual activity within romantic relationships can be an indication that unresolved conflict needs to be addressed before healing can happen.
4. Sexual dysfunction can be a side effect of prescription medication.
Some prescription drugs have sexual side effects. They include antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), anti-anxiety medications including benzodiazepines like Xanax, anti-seizure medications, blood pressure medications like beta blockers, synthetic hormones used for birth control pills and infertility treatments, 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors like Proscar used to treat enlarged prostate and Propecia used to prevent hair loss in men, and opioid painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. If these medications are interfering with a healthy sex life, your doctor may be able to recommend effective alternatives.
5. Knowledge is power.
In other words, if you are sexually active, it's essential to know about preventing sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy. Common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, herpes, hepatitis B, HIV and AIDS, and human papilloma virus (HPV) which increases the risk of developing cervical, anal and oral cancer. (Some of these infections can also be transmitted by other exchanges of body fluids like blood transfusions and sharing needles).
Testing for sexually transmitted infections and talking about protection is a routine part of preventive care for patients who are sexually active. Those who want to prevent pregnancy as well need a reliable method of contraception and your doctor can help you with that too.
So even if your doctor doesn't ask you questions about sex, don't be afraid to bring up sex in conversation.