Q: Why do doctors ask you if you're sexually active, and how much about your sex life does your doctor need to know?
A: Doctors ask this question because your sex life is related to your overall health in a lot of ways.
Sexual dysfunctions such as pain during sex or lack of interest or desire can be linked to the state of your mental health and can also signal certain physical diseases.
"As much truthful information as you can give, the better the job any doctor can do," said Dr. RONALD KONCHANIN, a Carle urologist.
Among the diseases that can be linked to sexual dysfunction in men or women or both are cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, bladder issues, high blood pressure, hormonal changes, anxiety and depression. Certain medications such as antidepressants, cancer drugs and blood pressure medicines can also be involved.
Conversations between patient and doctor about a patient's sexual history can also bring to the surface the patient's risk for sexually transmitted diseases and exposure to intimate partner violence.
"Sex should be pleasurable," Konchanin said. "You should want to have sex. There are health benefits to having sex, and if there are issues with desire, function, pain, then certainly bring it up to your physician."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 5 "Ps" that doctors should inquire about in taking a patient's sexual history, and they include the patient's partners (including partners' genders), practices, protection from sexually transmitted diseases, past history of STDs and prevention of pregnancy.
A doctor should begin by asking you if you mind if he or she asks questions about your sexual history and then spend some time on this topic, Konchanin said.
Patients who come in with sex-related concerns should bring them up early during a doctor visit, he advised.
"The patient shouldn't wait till the last two seconds when the physician is wrapping up and say, 'Oh, by the way,'" he said. "The patient should say, 'There is something that's on my mind, and I want to talk about it.'"
While some patients may be embarrassed about bringing up sex-related problems with their doctors, Konchanin advises keeping in mind that sexual health is just as important as any other aspect of health and well-being.
"They absolutely don't need to be embarrassed," he said. "Sexual health is akin to gall bladder health or skin health or anything else."