Sexual intimacy and pleasure play a huge role in the lives of many women. When sexual function changes as a result of the ageing process, injury, disease, disability, surgical or medical interventions, some seek help from a healthcare professional (HCP) such as their GP.
However, sex is often medicalised by some HCPs as they cannot think beyond their training, or see beyond their own sexual preferences and prejudices. Training seldom includes talking about sexual issues in depth or offering practical solutions
A 2012 paper, "Why don't healthcare professionals talk about sex?", found that only 6% of practitioners initiated discussions about sexual health problems on a regular basis.
Many GPs, including mine, tell women to have a glass of wine before having sex after childbirth, yet telling them to use a pH balanced sexual lubricant is much better advice. Many people do not realise that breastfeeding impacts on vaginal secretions, and sexual intercourse may feel uncomfortable or painful.
Often the sexual advice offered is outdated and can be detrimental to sexual health, including prescribing sexual lubricants that contain glycerin, known to cause thrush.
As a sexual health and pleasure writer, co founder of Jo Divine and a former nurse, I have written over 200 articles offering practical advice for women. These include sex after gynaecological cancers and breast cancer, sex after childbirth, sex and the menopause and normalising sex whoever you are and whatever your age.
Through my work I get to talk to women about a wide range of sexual health issues that impact upon their sexual pleasure, many of whom say they struggle to get the right advice and are often being dismissed by healthcare professionals, who tell them it is simply part of being a woman.
As a mother of three children and having had gynaecological issues that have affected my sex life, I have felt patronised at times by both male and female doctors and midwives and have been given very poor advice.
So many women are told that, as a result of childbirth, surgical and medical interventions and the menopause, your sexual health issues are normal.
I have heard the phrase, "it's normal" being said on so many occasions, yet what is normal about not being able to enjoy pleasurable sex because it is so painful, it impacts upon your physical and mental wellbeing and your relationships.
- Painful sex is not normal
- Being incontinent is not normal.
- Having heavy periods so you have to curtail daily activities is not normal.
- Being told that the pain from endometriosis is normal period pain is not normal, endo pain is so different from regular period pain, yet women with endometriosis struggle to get diagnosed for this common condition.
- Women who experience Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMDD) are often diagnosed with mental health issues and treated with strong medication for years, leading to the breakdown of relationships and their physical health too.
As women, we are encouraged to be more proactive about our health, seeking medical advice if we have a problem, yet I speak to women every week who have been dismissed by their GP for even wanting to enjoy a good sex life after medical interventions or just because they are in their 70's.
So many women give up on their sex lives and continue to endure painful sex, heavy bleeding, painful periods and urinary incontinence because of the way they have been treated.
I've lost count of the number of times I've heard women say they were lucky their HCP had attended a conference/talk or read a research paper so they could help them. Just how many women get the right advice or treatment because they were "lucky" rather than the HCP being informed about their issue? They cannot be expected to know everything, but a simple online search or asking a colleague is more proactive than saying, "I cannot help you".
I work with many amazing proactive HCPs, such as women's health physiotherapists, gynaecological cancer nurses and doctors who work hard to help women enjoy good sexual function and pleasure, including a consultant gynaecologist who says he treats women so they can enjoy sex, which is such a refreshing attitude but not a commonly held view.
I hope, through the work I do and love, we can change the attitude of some HCPs to support women and help them overcome the sexual health problems they face just for being female. Many are doing an amazing job but advice is so varied across the UK, such as giving the right menopause advice which can transform a woman's life, including her sex life.
By continuing to raise awareness about the many sexual health issues impacting upon women's lives, relationships and general wellbeing every day and offering practical sexual advice, will hopefully lead to more women enjoying a happy and healthy sex life.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email email@example.com