Chronic illness impact on sex life 'overlooked'

GPs should be more willing to give advice about how chronic ill health will affect patients' sex lives, experts have said.

Most people do not visit their GP when ill health causes sexual problems

A study by UK researchers found that one in six people say their health affects their sex life, yet three-quarters do not seek help from their doctor.

Writing in The Lancet, they said GPs should be given more support and training to improve their communication skills so they can ‘openly discuss’ the issue with patients.

The study found only 24% of men and 18% of women sought help from a clinician when ill health affected their sex life in the past year. Among those who did seek help, 90% went to their GP.

The research is part of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal).

The survey of over 15,000 men and women in Britain found one in six (17%) said their health affects their sex life, rising to 60% among those who have chronic illness.

Sexual activity was lower among those who reported poor health compared to those in very good health.

Authors said chronic disease, treatments and long-term disability can affect sexual lifestyles, which are ‘strongly linked’ to overall health and wellbeing.

Clinical advice about the effect of major health conditions on sexual activity is often not given, even when the condition is gynaecological or genital, and doctors rarely ask patients about sexual function, they said.

But sexual problems are common, can cause distress and can indicate underlying physical or mental health conditions.

The researchers said the study suggested ‘an unmet clinical need’ in medical practice.

Study lead author Dr Nigel Field of University College London said: ‘Our findings indicate that many patients with chronic ill-health are well aware of an effect of their health on their sex lives, but most (over three quarters) do not seek help from health professionals.

‘This suggests a need to raise awareness, improve guidance, and build communication skills among health professionals in talking to patients who may be concerned about how their health affects their sex life.’

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