Don’t call them ‘private parts’


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Today, I’d like to talk about private parts. You know: the genitals, down there.

I hate all of that. I really wish that we can get to a place where we can talk about genitals and sexual health the same way we do about high blood pressure and diabetes. In fact, when a new patient comes in and they get a new diagnosis of diabetes, you spend time explaining to them how their pancreas works. I don’t remember all the details because I’m a urologist. But you explain the details of diabetes, how it works, why therapy is important, and how it’s very important for quality of life.

I would like us to take that same understanding of anatomy and physiology and use it to explain to patients how their sexual health works because when they understand it, they then have the tools to make it better. I say to patients, “You have to know what parts you have in order to figure out how they drive, right?” We want them to drive better.

Let me give you an example. Many men come to see me with complaints of erectile dysfunction. They refuse to take sildenafil and tadalafil (Viagra and Cialis), saying, “Oh my gosh, those are magic pills. I won’t be a man if take them.” We all know that doesn’t make any sense. I explain to them how their penis works: “Your penis is a muscle. The muscle does two things. It contracts and it relaxes, just like your bicep. It’s just that your penis muscle is smooth muscle, which means it responds to fight or flight. It’s on the autonomic nervous system.”

I explain that if the muscle of the penis is relaxed, it fills with blood and expands. It gets big and hard, and it traps the blood. But when the muscles of the penis are contracted, when they are tight, it squeezes out all the blood, like squeezing out a sponge. So the important thing to do if you want to have good erections is to get the muscles to relax. Relaxed muscle increases erections. I get them to understand that sildenafil and tadalafil are phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors: smooth-muscle relaxants. Instead of saying, “I need to take Viagra or Cialis because I’m broken,” it’s, “Oh hey honey, I need to take my muscle relaxants because my muscles aren’t working the way that they used to.”

In the future, I’ll go into what happens in erectile dysfunction. We’ll go into what can happen with erectile dysfunction and the many reasons why it happens. It’s getting them to understand that if we get the muscles to relax, you will have better erections. This is how the penis works. It’s why the medicine works. The patients will actually try the therapy and they’ll feel so much better about it. They’ll say, “Oh my gosh, this makes so much sense.” They work on their mental muscles to get the muscles of the penis to relax. Understanding anatomy and physiology helps them understand the treatments, which leads to better outcomes.

How about the female side? If a woman comes to see me reporting that she can’t have an orgasm, part of it is education and understanding the anatomy and physiology. The clitoris and the penis are exactly the same thing. The head of the clitoris and the head of the penis are the same. The clitoris has legs that go all the way down to the butt bone. So everyone is sitting on their genitals right now. The butt bones connect to the bottom of the clitoris or the bottom of the penis. They each have legs called crura. When you get patients to understand where their anatomy is and how it functions, they will then understand how to maximize their quality of life.

The clitoris has smooth muscle just like the penis. When that smooth muscle relaxes, it gorges with blood. When you stimulate it, it can lead to orgasm for most people. But, wait a minute. The clitoris is not inside the vagina. It’s outside. It’s behind the labia majora. If you follow the labia minora up, you get to the head of the clitoris. If patients understand that, they then will understand that penetration is not the way the majority of people orgasm.

I love pictures. I show everyone pictures in my office. They help patients to understand why vibration or outside stimulation on the vulva will allow orgasm to happen. And so instead of patients coming in saying, “I’m broken, I can’t orgasm from penetration,” or, “Dr. Rubin, I’m broken because I can’t get erections,” getting them to understand the anatomy and physiology helps them understand the treatment.

As we go forward, I’ll talk more about anatomy and physiology and how to increase the sexual health of our patients. For now though, please stop calling them private parts. Please use your understanding of anatomy and physiology to educate your patients to have better sexual health and higher quality of life. You may be the only clinician to ever do so, and it will make their life so much better.

Dr. Rubin is an assistant clinical professor, department of urology, at Georgetown University, Washington. She reported conflicts of interest with Sprout, Maternal Medical, Absorption Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, and Endo.

A version of this article first appeared on

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