Sexual Wellness Resource Center
For Adults over 50.

Talking to your doctor about sex

Doctor and Patient
By Michael Bates, M.D.

From studies published by the New Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, and AARP regarding sexual activity among those over 50, it is clear that the majority of seniors are sexually active.  The frequency of sexual activity did not decrease through 74 years, despite a high prevalence of bothersome sexual problems.

DoctorThese problems range from erection problems for men, to vaginal dryness, loss of sexual interest, and problems in reaching orgasm in women.  It is also clear that patients are reluctant to discuss sexual problems.  No more than 10-15% of those with problems discuss them with their physicians, and women are less likely than men to discuss sex with their physician.  

This poor communication is due to a number of factors:

  • Doctors have full lists of patients to see every day, and they may be reluctant open up a subject that can not be easily dealt with in a 10 or 15 minute visit.
  • Physicians may not feel that they are trained about or knowledgeable enough of sexual health to be able to offer adequate advice and counseling.
  • Patients may be unwilling to initiate such discussions because of differences in sex and ages between the patient and the doctor.
  • Negative social attitudes about women’s sexuality and sexuality at older ages may also inhibit discussions.

Physicians need to acknowledge sexuality at older ages, and if unable or unwilling to provide education and counseling themselves, offer resources that are readily accessible for sexual problems.  The majority of sexual problems are treatable.

What did I always appreciate when seeing patients?  A well prepared patient with a list of his/her medications, health conditions, surgical history and HIS/HER questions.  Don’t hesitate to include sexual health issues and questions!  If you don’t get the attention or response you need, tell the doctor.  Chances are that he or she will be sympathetic, respond well, and help you.  If not, ask him or her to refer you to someone who can help. Healthy sex can last a lifetime for men and women. Take the time to educate yourself on sexual issues, especially as you get older. Always communicate openly and honestly with your doctors to ensure you enjoy all the pleasures sexual wellness can provide. 

About the Author

Michael Bates, M.D.

Dr Bates practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 34 years in Wichita, Kansas, until his retirement in 2011.

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