In the twenty-first century, sexuality is no longer a taboo subject, or so you would think. While sexuality is constantly portrayed in the media, those portrayals do not accurately reflect individuals’ beliefs, feelings, knowledge, or comfort levels with human sexuality. For many, a person’s sexuality remains a very private issue, and when people are not familiar with various sexual terms or have no experience with people whose sexual practices are different from their own, it can result in awkward situations. Imagine, therefore, how uncomfortable it may be for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to discuss sexuality with their patients or accommodate and support their patients’ diverse sexual needs.
Grace Blodgett, who has worked as a nurse for fifty years in numerous hospitals across the United States and has a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, has too often seen how sexuality is an issue for people in the healthcare professions and for their patients. Now she has written this handbook, Understanding Patients’ Sexual Problems, so healthcare workers can have greater understanding of their patients’ sexual needs, concerns, and personal situations. Blodgett presents the facts, supported by extensive research, and she offers points for discussion and room for greater familiarity with various sexual issues, while avoiding offering personal opinions. The result is an invaluable tool for healthcare professionals from nurses to doctors and EMTs and anyone else who comes into contact with patients.
In the introduction, Blodgett presents the reasons why she felt compelled to write this book: “HCPs in general avoid the patients’ sexual concerns… This avoidance is not a malicious or conscious act; it happens as a result of their personal sexual insecurities and a lack of sexual knowledge, time, and confidence in their counseling skills. After 50 years as a registered nurse at most levels of practice, and 20 years in the sexology arena, I have seen and experienced many occasions when HCPs have floundered and searched for the right words and information they needed. HCPs have demonstrated a need for this information.”
Blodgett hopes her handbook will fulfill that need. The book is designed for easy reference to any type of sexual behavior, offering both facts and attitudes concerning various sexual issues. The outline format makes each topic follow a similar pattern so information can easily be found and readers will know what to expect. Each topic’s outline contains a definition for the sexual term or topic, followed by its signs and symptoms, origins, background, suggested therapeutic and supported interventions, and potential outcomes of treatment. This format allows HCPs to understand the issue, find the best way to broach a subject with a patient, and as needed, discuss all the possibilities, pros and cons, for treatment, or simply, to understand better a patient’s situation.
Blodgett separates what is lawful and unlawful sexual behavior as well as discusses the prejudices that exist toward people who engage in certain sexual acts. Not only does she discuss issues that healthcare providers may be faced with such as sexual child abuse, but she explains the different sexual concerns of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. Prejudice also extends to the elderly-many people will assume that senior citizens have become asexual, but nothing could be further from the truth. Blodgett discusses sexual issues like erectile dysfunction that older patients may have, as well as suggestions for helping patients who have concerns about how to enjoy sexual activities despite whatever ailments they have. In addition, Blodgett discusses sexuality in relation to various diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. She emphasizes how important it is not to assume someone is not interested in sex because “all humans are sexual beings throughout all their lives.”
Perhaps most importantly, Blodgett asks healthcare providers to identify and examine their own sexual inhibitions, misconceptions, and insecurities, which may hinder them from providing the kinds of services their patients need. Blodgett even discusses the sexual stereotypes associated with healthcare nurses, such as the sexy doctor or the promiscuous nurse, and how these stereotypes affect their relationships with their patients. The appendices offer several “quizzes” for HCPs to take to examine their own beliefs and where those might be affecting their ability to care for their patients as well as supportive guides for aiding adults and children who may need assistance.
I found Understanding Patients’ Sexual Problems to be both insightful and informative. I think it is the kind of book everyone in the healthcare professions would find helpful. Its content is accessible, easily comprehensible, and while not exhaustive on all topics, will point readers to additional resources as needed. There’s no denial that we are all sexual beings with sexual thoughts and feelings, and to deny or ignore that fact is simply inhumane. This book will open the door for more comfortable discussions between patients and their healthcare providers, and in the process, it will allow patients to heal better, physically and emotionally, and that, after all, is the ultimate goal of the healthcare profession.