Women's Private Health Concerns, Discussed

Mayo Clinic?s Dr. Lynne Shuster explains.
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"Is it normal to feel this way during sex?"

"Should I be concerned that I am bleeding right now?"

"Am I supposed to feel like this?"

"Am I normal?"

Questions like these have popped into the minds of most women at one time or another, but many are reluctant, or even ashamed, to discuss them in detail with their physicians. However, for doctors, no question is stupid and no woman should feel embarrassed to ask the most intimate of questions when it comes to her health and well-being.

"Most embarrassment comes from the perceived notion of what the physician's response will be, and how that physician has previously built trust with intimate issues," said Dr. Diane Harper, director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Research Group at University of Missouri-Kansas.

And Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society and a gynecological consultant at Cleveland Clinic, agreed, and said that any symptom or annoying condition that a woman experiences should be raised with their doctors.

"Doctors feel comfortable talking about these issues, and, what I'd really like, is for women to feel comfortable talking about them as well," said Gass.

Dr. June LaValleur, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Minnesota, said it's the job of the doctor and the patient to create an open and inviting conversation.

"Women need to feel that their provider will be responsive to their question, so we teach residents to be 'askable' physicians," said LaValleur. "Being a gynecologist is such a special role, and it is indeed a privilege to have women as patients tell us things that are so hard for some to talk about."

Women's health experts say sensitive health concerns can range from natural body quirks to potentially life-threatening conditions. The next few pages feature a closer look at some disorders that, doctors say, women should never be ashamed to discuss.

Sex

While sex brings great pleasure and connection to many relationships, it can also be a source of stress when intimacy problems are not discussed. And that doesn't change outside of the bedroom: doctors say sex is one of the main topics that women have trouble discussing with their doctors.

First, let's talk orgasm.

"Women who have not had orgasms will very seldom say, 'I've never had an orgasm,'" said LaValleur. "They'll often skirt around the idea, so we are conscious to ask specific questions relating to orgasms and intimacy."

To note how closed-off some women can be when discussing their sex life, LaValleur recalled a patient in her 40s who came in for an annual appointment with her husband of two years. The woman had never had an orgasm. When the patient left the room to get dressed after the appointment, her husband pulled LaValleur aside to ask where the clitoris was on the body.

"Most women need to have the clitoris stimulated to orgasm and their partners sometimes don't know where it is," said LaValleur. "It's amazing what women don't know about their own body and body functions, and sometimes they're too afraid to tell their partner that what they're doing is not working for them."

"I always let a woman know that her orgasms are her own responsibility and she needs to tell her partner what she wants and needs," continued LaValleur.

Communication is often the answer to many of the sex questions that women pose, and can also be at the root of a secondary problem: a low sex drive.

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