A conversation I had recently with my dentist spurred me to consider this topic. She approached me and said, “Hey… you’re an expert on this, so I challenge you to get people thinking about the importance of sex education for physicians. That includes general practitioners, OB/GYN, and yes, even dentists.” I looked at her quizzically as she continued, “You have no idea how difficult it is, as a dentist, to know how to approach people who have been sexually traumatized in their lives. I know that some of the things I do have the ability to trigger them, yet I don’t fully understand what’s happening.” Enter the bright light and music as it dawns on me what she’s really talking about. She’s talking about how to work with a patient who has been traumatized and that her training involved zero sexuality education therefore she had no idea how to approach it. Consider someone who has been forced to have oral sex... the dentist working from above and within the mouth has the potential to be an absolutely terrifying experience. You know, I never even thought of it that way. I have been challenged to look at the situation and the act of going to the dentist, or to any doctor, in an entirely new way.
It is necessary to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding sexuality for them to be an effective practitioner. Some schools stress the knowledge, but cover the rest sparingly, if at all (Solursh et al., 2003). I began to examine online course catalogues for various medical and dental schools to see how much human sexuality education a student could expect in their schooling. I found that many schools provided courses in functional anatomy and physiology, but the courses appear to be just that, structure and function. The dental schools I looked at did not provide sexuality education at all. I could go on for days about the variations found and which schools had what, but that’s not the goal here.
In an effort to address the lack of quality sexuality education for American medical students, the American Medical Student Association recently launched their Sexual Health Scholars Program. It is a small group of dedicated students who enter a six month online course aimed at giving participants increased knowledge and skills toward “encouraging healthy sexualities, managing sexual concerns, and will help students bring these tools to their individual schools” (AMSA, 2010).
It is definitely a step in the right direction, and I encourage all of us to consider ways to make it more mainstream in the education process of physicians of all disciplines.
Solursh, D.L.,Ernst, J.L., Lewis, R.W., Prisant, L.M., Solursh, P.L., Jarvis, R.G., & Salazar, W.H (2003). The human sexuality education of physicians in North American medical schools. International Journal of Impotence Research, 15, S41-S45.
American Medical Student Association, www.amsa.org