Addressing Sexual Health With Patients

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depends on the setting. In the outpatient setting, I bring up the subject after I ask about sleep and appetite and before I ask about suicidal and homicidal thoughts; others may choose elsewhere in the patient history. However, asking about sexual issues may or may not be appropriate in an emergency department situation.

Providers often are uncomfortable with asking about sexual issues, perhaps more so if they are young and female and the patient is older and male. Therefore, I encourage expanded training in medical school and throughout residency.

Sexual Difficulties and Suicide

In the military, the suicide rate has been rising from about 10 per 100,000 per year in 2004 to about 20 per 20,000 in this decade. 4,5 According to the VA Office of Suicide Prevention, about 20 veterans die by suicide daily. 6 One question that has received little attention is the relationship between sexual difficulties and suicide. Although there has been an important focus on causes of suicide in the military and veterans, little is known about the important issue of how many service members die by suicide because of impotence.

We do know a lot about the big picture as to why service members die by suicide. In about two-thirds of the completed suicides, there were relationship issues. In addition, there are often legal, occupational, and financial difficulties. About two-thirds of service members die by suicide using firearms. Jumping and strangulation are other common methods. 4,5

But there is much we do not know. What percentage of relationship difficulties are related to sexual dysfunction? Is ED the straw that breaks the camel’s back and leads to the shot to the chest? Other subjects outside the scope of this column (but included in Intimacy Post Injury ) include sexual therapy, fertility, adaptations for those with disabilities, reproductive AEs of toxin exposure, and surgeries that include penile transplantation.

My hypothesis is that sexual problems, specifically ED or impotence, contribute to feelings of failure and inadequacy and thus to suicidal or homicidal thoughts.


Health care providers do not always talk to patients about their sexual health and may barely mention the sexual AEs of psychiatric or other medications. In whatever setting you practice, you should not neglect asking questions about sexual health, as it is a critical issue for many of our patients and should be for us.


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