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Getting Personal; Experts Say Doctors, Patients Must Overcome Skittishness About Discussing Sexual Behavior
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Sexual behavior; Physician patient relationships; Health care; Interpersonal communication
Author: John-Manuel Andriote
Date: Mar 10, 1998
Start Page: Z.10
Section: HEALTH TAB

"It is ironic in a society that is awash with sexual messages that frank discussion about sexuality and sexual practices is avoided," says Dennis Barber, president of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, a group that educates medical care providers about sexuality and reproductive issues. "It is understandable in polite conversation, but in a clinical setting it's nothing less than bizarre."

Although sex is used to titillate and tempt consumers to buy things, Americans are often viewed as a puritanical lot because they become skittish when talking about sexuality as a real-life experience. Peggy Brick, director of education for Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey, says: "Part of it is cultural -- this is stuff you don't talk about. People have learned you can joke about it, but to talk seriously about it people see as invading personal space."

That attitude can be dangerous because sexual practices can have a huge impact on health. Yank D. Coble, an endocrinologist in Jacksonville, Fla., and a board member of the American Medical Association, says a thorough understanding of patients' sexual activities is often needed to accurately diagnose hormonal and fertility problems and to diagnose and treat certain infectious diseases -- including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

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