Here’s How to Talk to Your Doctor About Sexual Health

·5 min read
Photo credit: The Good Brigade - Getty Images
Photo credit: The Good Brigade - Getty Images

We get it. Admitting that you have a sexual health issue that needs attention is hard enough, but having that conversation aloud? With someone else? Even a doctor who’s literally heard it all before? It shouldn’t be embarrassing or uncomfortable. But, for a lot of men, it is.

According to a survey by Hearst Media, the parent company of Men’s Health, nearly two in four sexually active men agree that their sexual health is just as important as their physical or mental health and should be discussed openly. Yet only about 44 percent of men who have experienced a sexual health problem discussed it with their spouse or partner(s). Perhaps even worse, only half of them consulted a medical professional. Why are these stats so troubling? Because this head-in-the-sand approach can have long-lasting health consequences—and not just for sexual health.

The most common sexual problem that will send you to the doctor

Justin Houman, MD, a urologist and male reproductive medicine and surgery specialist at Tower Urology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says the most common symptom that brings a guy into a men’s health clinic is erectile dysfunction (ED). But, oftentimes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Experiencing erectile dysfunction can be the underlying sign of something more drastic going on with your health,” he says, explaining that it can signal high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. For example, if the blood flow to your penis is compromised, this could mean the blood flow to more vital organs, including your heart, is compromised as well.

Then there are the psychological effects of ED. The aforementioned survey revealed that the majority of men who experienced sexual health problems felt depressed or “less like a man” as a result. “As sexual dysfunction lingers, it can have a much larger impact on not just your self-esteem, but on the relationship between you and your partner,” says Dr. Houman. “That’s why it’s so important to be evaluated as soon as possible if you’re concerned.”

“I recommend seeing a physician as soon as symptoms arise,” says Kien Vuu, MD, a concierge doctor, assistant professor of health sciences at UCLA, and author of Thrive State: Your Blueprint for Optimal Health, Longevity, and Peak Performance. “It’s better to get an initial baseline assessment versus discovering there are other underlying issues much later when they’re harder to treat and reverse.”

Bottom line: If something’s not right in the sack, it’s time to talk to your doctor, like, now. Starting this conversation and making it as painless as possible is all about due diligence—figuring out where to seek treatment (and from whom), what information your doctor may need from you, and what questions to ask.

Unless your insurance requires you to get a referral from your primary care physician (PCP) to see a specialist, go straight to a men’s health urologist. This type of physician specializes in men’s sexual and reproductive health and will be able to diagnose and appropriately treat the cause of your problem.

Prepare yourself

Bring a written list (on your phone or a piece of paper) noting symptoms and concerns you want to discuss and the questions you want answers to, because it can be easy to lose focus when you’re put on the spot. This will also maximize the time with your doctor to ensure all your issues get addressed.

Take notes throughout your appointment so you can refer back to any details you may forget. You can also ask the doctor if it’s OK to record the conversation so that you (and your partner, if desired) can listen to it again later.

How to have a candid conversation with your doc

Realize you may have to start it

Sometimes, just getting those first words out is the hardest part, especially if your doctor doesn’t have the most engaging bedside manner. Try this prompt to get started: “I’m a little uncomfortable talking about this, but can I discuss my sexual issues with you?”

“There’s no story we haven’t heard,” says Dr. Houman. “Discussing these things with your physician should be an open and honest conversation in a safe space. All of this will ultimately help for more positive interactions going forward.”

Know that you’ll have to answer questions, too

You won’t be the only one asking questions. Be prepared to address the following topics with your doctor, and put some thought into it ahead of time:

  • Overall medical history: Bring any paperwork you have or send your records ahead of time.

  • How long the sexual issue has persisted: Do your best to narrow down some dates after looking at a calendar.

  • What exactly is happening: Get specific about the symptoms.

  • How the problem has affected you emotionally: Be honest!

  • What you’ve done to temporarily deal with the problem: Remember, nothing you say will surprise your doctor.

If your doctor doesn’t ask all of these questions, it's important to volunteer the information. You may also want to share your diet, sleep, and exercise habits. This will help provide a baseline understanding of what’s going on and the best way to address it.

Never hold back

This is no time to keep secrets—you’re there for a reason, and you’re going to need to spill the beans. All of them. “The worst mistake a man could make when talking to their doctor about sexual health would be to withhold information for fear of embarrassment or shame,” says Dr. Vuu. If there are privacy issues you’re trying to avoid with your significant other, attend the appointment alone so you can be fully honest.

Ask what happens next

Before you leave, make sure you have a strong understanding of what the diagnosis is, if there is one, and what the treatment goal is, as well as what you should be doing between this visit and the next to optimize your sexual health. “Most doctors will explain a treatment plan and algorithm for how to approach your issues,” says Dr. Vuu. “If you are unclear as to what the next step is, additional questions are always welcome.”

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