How to Talk to Patients About Sex in a Professional Way | Coaching for PT’s

How to talk to patients about sex… It can be awkward, but rewarding. As Physical Therapists and healthcare professionals, we often have to ask questions even closest confidants do not talk about, including intimate details about bodily functions, pelvic health, and that includes sexual health. 

As PT’s, how do we make it possible to remove the stigma and the “embarrassment” of talking about sex with our patients? 

For one, it’s important to give permission to talk about it.

As Physical Therapists we can make this into a super power and open up communication channels. This skill will help you, as the therapist, respond to your patients needs quickly and efficiently, openly with skill. 

As healthcare professionals, physical therapists play a crucial role in addressing the overall well-being of their patients. While discussing topics related to sex and sexual health may seem uncomfortable or taboo, it is important to recognize that these conversations can be essential for providing comprehensive care. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, only 1 in 5 physical therapists (PTs) in the United States feel comfortable discussing sex with their patients. This is despite the fact that many patients are interested in talking about sex with their PTs. In fact, a study by the American Physical Therapy Association found that 70% of patients would like to discuss sex with their PTs.

Below, we’ve created a guide for PT practice owners aimed to answer the question: how to talk to patients about sex (in a sensitive and professional manner). 

Establish a Trusting and Comfortable Environment

Creating a safe and non-judgmental space is crucial for patients to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics. Start by building rapport with your patients, emphasizing confidentiality, and assuring them that their concerns will be handled with professionalism and respect. 

Use Appropriate Terminology

Physical therapists (PTs) can help patients discuss sexual function in a professional way. It is important to use language that is clear, respectful, and professional. Avoid using slang or offensive terms that may make your patients feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. Use anatomically correct terms and be prepared to explain any medical jargon if necessary.

Men in particular may struggle to talk about intimate things due to societal expectations of masculinity, fear of judgment or vulnerability, and a lack of open dialogue and education surrounding these topics.

Normalize the Conversation

Acknowledge that discussing sexual health is a normal part of overall well-being. By normalizing the conversation, you can help alleviate any potential shame or embarrassment your patients may feel. Emphasize that you are there to provide support and guidance, just like any other aspect of their healthcare.

Assess Patient Comfort Level

Before delving into specific questions or concerns related to your client’s sexual health and habits, assess your patient’s comfort level. Start by asking general questions about their overall sexual health and well-being. This approach allows patients to gradually open up and express any concerns they may have without feeling overwhelmed.

Use Open-Ended Questions

Encourage patients to share their experiences and concerns by asking open-ended questions. This approach allows them to express themselves freely and provides you with valuable information to guide your assessment and treatment planning. Active listening is essential during these discussions to ensure patients feel heard and understood.

A prompt could look like: “Tell me about your sex life, what’s going well, and what’s not?”

Provide Education and Resources

Many patients may have limited knowledge about sexual health – particularly men –  and may benefit from education and resources. Offer information about the physical and psychological aspects of sex, addressing common concerns or misconceptions. 

Provide pamphlets, reputable websites, or other resources that patients can refer to for further information. Think about putting leaflets and posters into the waiting area to encourage patients to initiate the conversation. 

Collaborate with Other Healthcare Professionals

If you feel that a patient’s concerns or questions exceed your expertise, consider collaborating with other healthcare professionals who specialize in sexual health, such as sex therapists or psychologists. This interdisciplinary approach ensures comprehensive care and provides patients with access to the most appropriate resources.

You have to have a strong knowledge base to be able to support patients in sex and pelvic health advice. The Sisu Practice is here to help you build that foundation, to become skillful and successful in your approach. 

Your knowledge and experience

It is even harder to talk about sex with patients if you feel that you don’t have the knowledge or experience to be able to answer their questions fully and provide care, advice and sound reasoning. This could put a PT in an awkward and embarrassing position and shut down the relationship and the trust. This is where we ask you to reach out and talk to us about what you need to be a thriving, knowledgeable therapist. There are gaps in the education system and we are here to support you to be confident and successful. 

Engaging in discussions about sex is an important aspect of holistic care provided by physical therapists. By creating a trusting environment, using appropriate language, normalizing the conversation, assessing patient comfort levels, asking open-ended questions, providing education and resources, and collaborating with other professionals when necessary, physical therapists can effectively address their patients’ concerns related to sexual health while maintaining professionalism and respect. 

It will take practice to grow the skills of talking about intimate issues with patients, but over time it will become easier.

About The Sisu Practice | Dr. Hollie Neujahr, Founder

Hollie Neujahr, PT, DPT, CLT, CMTPT, MBA, the Sisu Practice, N2 Physical Therapy
Dr. Hollie Neujahr, PT, DPT, CLT, CMTPT, MBA

The Sisu Practice provides practical, professional support for Physical Therapists. 

With the guidance and resources provided by The Sisu Practice, physical therapy professionals can enhance confidence, skills, and overall professional satisfaction, ensuring you continue to provide exceptional care to your patients.

The Sisu Practice stands at the forefront of empowering healthcare entrepreneurs, particularly within the realm of physical therapy. With a keen focus on business coaching for healthcare entrepreneurs, we are dedicated to unlocking the full potential of your physical therapy practice.

Whether you’re looking to scale your existing business or start your cash-based physical therapy venture, our specialized business training is tailored to meet the unique needs of practice owners and physical therapist entrepreneurs.

With our expert business consulting for physical therapists, we are committed to helping you achieve PT practice success, ensuring your business not only thrives but also positively impacts the lives of your patients.

Designed by a Physical Therapist – Dr Hollie Neujahr – especially for Physical Therapists.  

Coaching, education,1:1, mentoring and a supportive community to help professionals overcome anxieties and to thrive.