How To Talk To Your Doctor About Sex Injuries (Because Yes, You Should Do That)

Illustrated by Norah Stone.
In a season 9 episode of Grey's Anatomy, a patient comes into the hospital with a bruised tailbone — an injury that happened when she fell off of a pole while doing a strip tease for her husband. Later in the episode, the doctors learn that the patient had also "vajazzled" her vagina with rhinestones in the shape of a butterfly. Now, I love my Seattle Grace-Mercy West doctors, but they didn't exactly respond well when the woman opened up about her sex life (think: lots of shifting eyes and a giggle or two).
The episode made it clear that doctors are people, and people think sex is funny. Which is probably one reason so many of us are shy to talk to our doctors about our sex lives. But injuries happen during sex all the time — a pulled muscle here, a rug burn there — and it's best to be open with your doctor about exactly how you got hurt. "To have a good partnership with your doctor, it is important to talk about sensitive subjects, like sex," says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So even if your doctor doesn't need to know that you pulled your leg muscle while attempting to climb on top of your partner to treat the injury, telling them can get you into the practice of talking about sex openly with medical professionals.
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And someday, that honesty will be important. Maybe you'll want to get pregnant and need to ask your doctor about ovulation. Maybe your penis won't work as well as it used to. Maybe your vagina will suddenly become really dry, or you'll experience pain whenever someone penetrates you. Just about everyone will eventually have something sex-related that their doctor can address.
So it's good practice to start the conversations now, especially if you're having sex that's even slightly kinky (like swinging around a pole installed in your bedroom). Kinky sex tends to result in more injuries than other kinds of sex, especially if there are whips, floggers, or ropes involved. A doctor could help you have kinky sex safely, and should also know your history if you ever do get hurt. But talking to your doc about kinks isn't easy. Studies have shown that many people who engage in kinky sex want to talk to their doctors about the health risks involved, but fear being judged. "About 13% of survey respondents told their doctors their injuries were caused by something other than BDSM,” Anna M. Randal, executive director of The Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance, told the Huffington Post. “People make up stories; some are embarrassed, but most are more worried about being shamed by their doctors or not getting good care."
The fear of judgement is totally valid, because sex is still a taboo thing to talk about in our culture. And even doctors might feel weird asking their patients about sex. "We know what to ask, but we may be uncomfortable asking intimate questions about a patient's sex life," Donna Sweet, M.D., wrote for the American Academy of Family Physicians. She urges primary care physicians to speak candidly with their patients about their sexual histories, and the responsibility goes both ways. Your doctor should be asking you about your sexual history, but you should also be forthcoming when a sex-related issue brings you into the doctor's office — even when it's just a pulled muscle.
So how do you get that conversation started? It's easier than you think. Preface it with something like, "I have a personal question I would like to ask you...", the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests. You can even acknowledge the embarrassment and awkwardness by saying something like, "So this is a little embarrassing, but..." Once you acknowledge it, the awkwardness should disappear. Remember, your doctor has probably seen lots of different sex injuries (they're actually pretty common), so they likely aren't going to be shocked by yours.
If you do feel that your doctor is shaming you, that's good reason to consider making a switch. "If you feel like the provider is judging you, making assumptions about you because of your gender, or is doing something to make you feel uncomfortable, find a different doctor,” Katharine O'Connell White, MD, the Director of the Family Planning Fellowship at Boston University told Stay Teen. There are plenty of doctors out there who won't laugh at or judge your sex injuries, so shop around and find someone who makes you feel comfortable.
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