Family doctors lack sex treatment expertise

Special symposium on women's sexuality held in Jerusalem this week.

Lack of time for patients and inadequate training in medical schools makes it difficult for general practitioners and family physicians to diagnose and treat sexual problems, according to Dr. Diana Flescher, an internal medicine and women's health specialist who spoke at a special symposium on women's sexuality in Jerusalem on Monday. The day-long symposium, held at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Nursing, was organized by the Jerusalem Forum for Female Sexuality and the Counseling Center for Women, and was attended by dozens of psychologists, physicians, social workers, physical therapists and other professionals in the field. Flescher noted that, with health funds usually limiting their doctors to seven to 15 minutes for each patient consultation, there was little time for primary physicians who have the closest relationships with their patients to investigate whether complaints about various physical symptoms resulted from problems in patients' interpersonal and sexual relationships and if they had suffered some kind of emotional trauma. Many send women who do complain about pain in sexual relations, for example, to gynecologists instead of dealing with these matters themselves, Flescher said. A gynecologist in the audience noted that only at Ben-Gurion University's medical school, where she studied, was a week-long session on sexual health given. Not only do doctors lack time and information, but their own sociocultural and religious biases may make it difficult for them to give advice on sexual issues such as heterosexual behaviors they do not accept or lesbian relationships. The other speakers stressed that diagnosing and treating female sexual problems required a multidisciplinary approach by a variety of experts. Assumptions such as men "always wanting sex" and women "not" were outdated, they said, noting they encountered many patients whose attitudes were in direct contrast with those stereotypes. The experts agreed that many women who come for advice mistakenly believe that they can get some "instant" cure for their problems, while in fact women's sexual problems such as vaginismus (involuntary muscular contract that prevents intercourse), frigidity and pain require careful diagnosis and treatment by a variety of methods. In many cases, women do not even possess the terminology to explain what their sexual problems are. A feature on the symposium will appear on The Jerusalem Post's Health Page in the near future. Family doctors lack sex treatment expertise