Talk to your GP about your sexual health
SEXUAL health researcher Dr Sue Malta is getting closer to creating a viable nexus between GPs and seniors who to date are rarely found talking about sex issues for seniors.
"It's been a huge conundrum about how to get these conversations to occur," Dr Malta said. "Many GPs think older people aren't interested and older people are generally too shy or embarrassed or don't know how to bring these matters up."
Staying sexually active is known to be good for a person's physical and mental wellbeing, and for relationships. And age isn't a reason not to stay active.
"We all have skin deprivation, like skin craving," Dr Malta said. "You need to be held and cuddled. People lose touch if they are not in a relationship."
An important barrier to driving forward the conversation on sexual health has been the dismissive or condescending responses to those seniors who have tried to take up the subject with their GP.
Part of the problem is that sex as we age becomes less about intercourse and more about other sexual activities which can be just as intimate and fulfilling. However, because the body doesn't work the way it used to, everyone assumes that our sex lives are over once we get older.
One of Dr Malta's research group female members, aged in her 60s, commented, 'In the GP world there seems to be a view that nothing happens between my neck and my knees. We're still active sexual beings; it's just a normal part of who we are'.
The University of Melbourne's Sexual Health and Ageing Perspectives and Education (SHAPE) project run by Dr Malta is investigating how to ensure these GP discussions occur.
"We know that time pressures mean that GPs tend to focus on chronic health conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure and so on and anything to do with sex becomes the last thing they will bring up - that is, if they even consider it at all," she said.
But for many people, no matter their age, sexual health and wellbeing problems can have a major impact on how they deal with their chronic health issues.
Dr Malta recounted the story of another research group member from a previous project who had such severe fibromyalgia she could hardly walk. "She told me that when she was 'romping around in bed' she didn't feel any pain," Dr Malta said.
"We really need health professionals to consider sexual health and wellbeing as just another aspect of an older person's ongoing care.
"It's more complex than we think.
"We need education for GPs at both the undergraduate and continuing education level, but we also need sexual health education resources for older people themselves so that they can be more informed about their sexual relationships, particularly new ones."
With more and more older people engaging in new sexual relationships and with many of them never having had sexual health education, it's important they understand the need for barrier protection as well as learning ways to make their relationship enjoyable even when they have physical challenges.
With the SHAPE project outcomes some time away, Dr Malta says the GP is still the first point of contact.
Helpful information can also be found at andrologyaustralia.org, jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/sex-sexual-health and the SHAPE blog at shapeprojectblog.wordpress.com.