Committee Opinion No 706: Sexual Health

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Abstract

Sexuality involves a broad range of expressions of intimacy and is fundamental to self-dentification, with strong cultural, biologic, and psychologic components. Obstetrician–gynecologists often are consulted by patients about sexual health and are in a unique position to open a dialogue on sexual health issues. Several obstacles to frank conversations with patients about sexual health exist, including a lack of adequate training and confidence in the topic, a perception that there are few treatment options, a lack of adequate clinical time to obtain a sexual history, patients’ reluctance to initiate the conversation, and the underestimation of the prevalence of sexual dysfunction. However, data on reproductive and sexual health morbidity suggest sexual health is an important health care issue. Each year, an estimated 45,000 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and approximately 20 million sexually transmitted infections occur, 3 million women experience unintended pregnancies, and 1 million women are sexually assaulted. Openly discussing sexual health has the potential to prevent these unnecessary sexual health-related outcomes. Clinical conversations should acknowledge the contributions of sexuality, relationships, and sexual behavior to overall health. Obstetrician–gynecologists can address sexual health issues across a lifespan with their patients and encourage a strategic foundation for women’s sexual health issues, resulting in improved public health overall. Obstetrician–gynecologists also can support policies that broaden the coalition for effective prevention of sexually transmitted infections and promote healthy sexuality, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes and public health.

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