Liam Farrell: Let's talk about sex

Have we GPs not enough to do? Why are we always the default option?

Some years ago, the Irish Times reported that a pod of dolphins had been stranded on an Atlantic beach. Despite the efforts of the locals, all the dolphins died and the report speculated that an unknown disease may have been the cause, and advised all in contact with the whales to see their GP.

Earlier this month the Irish Times had a front-page headline reading ‘Older Irish people having more sex’; and sometimes with other people, it might have added.

Apparently 60% of adults over 50 are sexually active, and enjoy better health, with fewer long-term disabilities. And, at the end, the inevitable kicker; this study will ‘reinvigorate’ GPs to enquire about the sex lives of their patients ‘as part of routine clinical assessment and care’.

I’m hardly ‘reinvigorated’, but I do have sympathy for this candour. Our primal drives demand our genes become immortal, although Mother Nature has been kind, softening this imperative with a twinkle in her eye. We enviously regard the happy sexuality of other mammals, like rabbits and bonobos, where sex is governed only by the availability of the female, because there is a snake in the human garden of Eden, the serpent of socio-cultural and religious control, so dragging sex out into the open and pulling it’s pants off can be difficult, even for asexual doctors.

However, like any good doctor, I follow the evidence, so when Johnny and Mary came in (as if the world would collapse if they didn’t have their blood pressure checked every month) I understood my obligations.

‘What do you do about sex?’ I asked.

Mary seemed surprised and looked at Johnny for clarification. Johnny is a local raconteur, loves spinning yarns, grabbing the microphone at parties, charity blackmail events etc. So I was not only being a diligent doctor, I was bringing sunshine into his life, a tale he would tell with relish to his friends, children and grandchildren. And the tale would be re-told at his funeral and pass down the generations into legend.

Such is the rich tapestry of general practice, they don’t teach you this at medical school. I was feeding him a line, being his straight man.

Johnny drew himself up, as if he’d been waiting all his life to deliver this punch-line.

‘What do we about sex?’ he said. ‘We have our dinner around that time.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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