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Discussing Embarrassing Topics with Your Doctor

January 09, 2024

Eventually, everyone has something embarrassing to ask their doctor. It could be a range of issues, including sexual dysfunction, bowel problems, urinary incontinence, body odors or hair loss.

Some people have no difficulty sharing personal matters. But others – for a variety of reasons – find it challenging to be open and honest about their intimate health details.

Having a new relationship with your doctor also can make it difficult to raise these subjects. It may feel like you are revealing intimate details of your life to a total stranger. Or you might withhold information because you don’t realize it has medical importance. Or you may not want to be a burden on your doctor.

Your Doctor Needs To Know

Your doctor spent at least seven years in graduate and post-graduate training to learn the science and art of medicine. With all of that training comes the ability to take your list of symptoms and reach a diagnosis.

That job is made more difficult when you aren’t sharing all of the information you have – or if you aren’t being honest with your answers. Giving false information creates its own unique set of problems, since it may encourage your doctor to suggest tests or procedures (including biopsies and imaging) that could have been avoided.

Think of your doctor’s office visits as a chance to work together on your health care. The decisions made in that room can have a significant impact on your health. It helps when you ask questions about treatment recommendations and anything you don’t understand. But even more, you should answer your doctor’s questions honestly and bring up any intimate or embarrassing issues for discussion.

Discussion Strategies

When you have something difficult to discuss, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your doctor has heard it before: There’s nothing you can say that your doctor hasn’t dealt with at some point. They spend their days dealing with patients’ bodily functions and fluids. They aren’t going to judge anything you say. And there’s nothing they will consider “off limits.”
  • Take it slow. If a subject is uncomfortable for you, let your doctor know this. Start with a simple phrase like: “I’ve never told anyone else about this.” This will give your doctor a quick clue that it’s time to slow down the conversation. Your doctor can then ease into the subject, with a series of easier-to-handle questions.
  • Strive to build a partnership. Remember that you and your doctor are working together on your health. The stronger your relationship, the easier it will be share.
  • Consider bringing a friend or loved to the appointment. If your visit might have some sensitive topics on the agenda, consider whether it would help to have your partner or a trusted companion along. For some people, this can make it easier to be honest, while others may be even less inclined to speak openly.
  • Ask questions. Make sure you are part of the conversation. Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions or seek clarification about the meaning of technical terms.
  • Be direct. This may be a challenge, but don’t be afraid to be blunt. Instead of tiptoeing around the issue, say what’s bothering you. If your poop looks or smells odd, explain what you mean. If sex hurts, describe where it hurts.
  • Make a list. A doctor’s appointment can be filled with all sorts of distracting activities, including filling out questionnaires, the physical exam, taking vital signs and answering your doctor’s questions. It’s easy to forget something you had hoped to discuss. Show up with a list – either on paper or on your phone – to stay on track and remind you not to let your sensitive subject slide.

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