A gynecologist’s office doesn’t exactly feel like the ideal place for a chat about your sex life. Even for the most sex-positive among us, it feels way easier to open up about our histories and desires among friends, over a rosé—not with the doctor on the other end of the speculum, under the buzzing fluorescent lights.
But as awkward as it can be to dish on the details of your sex life while wearing a super-sized white napkin, there’s a good reason to do so. Your gynecologist isn’t just a person in a white coat—they are your ally and partner in health. And when you’re open with them, it empowers you to get the best possible care.
It’s a matter of pleasure as well as health, too. “For some women, talking to their gynecologist is the first step in creating a vibrant and rich sex life,” says ob-gyn Staci Mayer, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix.
We spoke to three practicing ob-gyns about the things your gynecologist needs to know about your sex life. As they emphasized to us, your doctor’s office is a judgment-free zone—so take a deep breath and tell your truth.
Your (Real) Number of Sexual Partners, Past and Present
It’s an unfortunate truth that, due to the sexual double-standard, women may be tempted to fudge the numbers when asked how many sexual partners they’ve had, or currently have. But getting those numbers straight with your gynecologist is crucial so she can make the most informed recommendations to you in terms of health screenings and birth control. And don’t worry; your doctor absolutely won’t judge you for telling the truth.
“As a gynecologist, I know what women experience varies greatly,” says Dr. Mayer. “In our office discussions, there is never any judgment.” In fact, she says, being straight with your gyno can have a positive impact even outside the doctor’s office. “Patients should be able to talk openly with their doctors about their personal histories and their concerns. It can empower women to express intimate desires in their relationships, too.”
The Gender of Your Sexual Partners
Your sexual orientation might seem irrelevant, but knowing the gender of your partners is actually essential information for your gynecologist. “With sexual orientation comes differences in the potential for sexually acquired diseases, contraceptive needs, sexual gratification techniques and family planning,” says ob-gyn Felice Gersh, MD, founder of the Integrative Medical Practice of Irvine in Irvine, California. Telling your doc about your partners helps her give you the screenings and information you need to stay healthy.
Any History of Sexual Trauma
Remember what Dr. Mayer said about working with your doctor to create a vibrant and healthy sex life? Well, an important part of that is being open with your doc about any history of sexual trauma. “A women’s safety and consent are paramount for all sexual interactions,” says Dr. Mayer. And if you’ve had sexual experiences that felt unsafe or nonconsensual, it can impact your mental health, your desire to be intimate and your level of sexual satisfaction. If needed, your doctor can connect you to mental health resources and help you reclaim your right to safety and pleasure.
Whether You Plan to Have Children (or Not)
Most people know your doctor can connect you to information relating to family planning—from advising you on the optimal time to conceive to setting up a birth control method that works for you. But as Tami Prince, MD, of Women’s Health and Wellness Center of Georgia, points out, knowing whether you plan to become pregnant is especially important if you have a history of STIs, some of which can affect fertility or the health of your baby.
“Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, if left untreated, can lead to scarring of fallopian tubes and thus fertility issues,” Dr. Prince says. “Herpes can be transmitted to babies during the birthing process if a patient has an outbreak immediately prior to vaginal delivery.” As always, being open with your doc means getting the best care and reducing risk of transmission.
If You Experience Any Pain with Sex
“Women experience painful intercourse for a number of reasons,” says Dr. Prince. “The most common reasons include decreased vaginal lubrication, certain sexual positions being more uncomfortable, spasms at the vaginal opening (introitus), fear of intercourse and perceived pain, or a history of sexual abuse.” Women should let their gynecologists know if they experience any pain during sex, so your doc can perform a more focused exam, rule out any physical causes and recommend treatment options.
So, How Are Your Orgasms?
Sex is supposed to be enjoyable—but many women don’t mention a disinterest in sex or inability to achieve orgasm to their doctors. “It’s surprising how many women don’t have the information needed to achieve sexual gratification or have never experienced an orgasm but are too shy to say anything,” says Felice Gersh, MD.
But, Dr. Gersh says, lack of enjoyment in sex can have important health implications. “A woman may have a partner who doesn’t know how to please her, she may have physical issues creating sexual pain, or she may have hormonal problems that preclude enjoyable sexual activity. Sexual relations are a significant component of a healthy adult life and actually have health benefits. Even single women can be helped to obtain self-gratification, but often they don’t have the knowledge they need. The gynecologist can help women achieve a happy sexual life, but only if they know each woman’s story and her needs.”
So whether you’re partnered up or solo, let your gyno know if you don’t enjoy sex—she may be able to help more than you think.
If Your Libido Isn’t Where You Want It to Be
Low libido is a problem for many women—and it’s one of the most important aspects of your sex life to bring to your doc. “If you’re experiencing a decrease in desire for intimacy or no orgasm, this needs to be addressed, as it can impact not only your health but your relationships as well,” says Dr. Prince. If yours isn’t where you feel it should be, your doctor can work with you to rule out physical complications, choose medicines less likely to impact your sex drive and recommend ways to talk to your partner—because a satisfying sex life is every woman’s right.
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