CHICAGO, March 23 (UPI) -- U.S. doctors and patients tend to avoid discussing sex despite the well-established link between sexual function and overall health, researchers said.
A survey, conducted by a team of University of Chicago researchers, found nearly two-thirds of OB-GYNs routinely inquire about patients' sexual activity but other aspects of female sexuality are not routinely addressed. Twenty-nine percent of doctors routinely asked patients about satisfaction with their sexual lives and 28 percent routinely confirm a patient's sexual orientation.
The study's authors said their findings point to a clear need for stronger guidelines for doctors on conducting a thorough sexual history.
"As a practicing OB-GYN, many of my patients say I'm the first physician to talk with them about sexual issues," Dr. Stacy Lindau -- associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology and medicine-geriatrics at the Pritzker School of Medicine -- said in a statement. "Sexuality is a key component of a woman's physical and psychological health. Simply asking a patient if she's sexually active does not tell us whether she has good sexual function or changes in her sexual function that could indicate underlying problems."
If the doctor doesn't ask about sex, patients often assume the topic is not welcome for discussion, Lindau said.
"Many women are suffering in silence," Lindau said. "Patients are often reluctant to bring up sexual difficulties because of fear the physician will be embarrassed or will dismiss their concerns. Doctors should be taking the lead. Sexual history taking is a fundamental part of gynecologic care. Understanding a patient's sexual function rounds out the picture of her overall health and can reveal underlying issues that may otherwise be overlooked."
The findings were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.