Thursday, November 26, 2009

Another day, another presentation

Yes, another day, or rather another week, and I was off to do another presentation. This time I was attending the annual meeting of the European Society of Sexual Medicine in Lyon.

The task at hand was to present - at a formal dinner - to 100 international opinion formers about the difficulty of addressing sexual issues in medical consultations. As always I was delighted to oblige because - as those of you who read my previous blogs will know - bridging the gap between patients and health professionals is one of my passions. It was all very exciting!

In the event, what excited me most about my four-day presence at the conference was how enthusiastically the other delegates shared my vision. Remember, we are talking here not about a gathering of therapists or counsellors, but of physicians - and frankly, even up to even a few years ago, the issue of empathic communication would have fallen on deaf ears. But this time, not only was my own speech well-received, but the main body of the conference contained a wonderful flurry of other relevant presentations

One of the best was a session led by my colleague John Dean, where two young actors and a willing therapist role-played a worst- and then a best-practice consultation for a couple with sexual difficulties. The actors were convincing, the therapist skilled, and John himself drew some very nice lessons from the demonstration.

In short, the energy for open, sensitive and cooperative patient-professional communication was higher than I have ever seen it; I do believe that there is a real sea change on the way, where both sides can start to understand (and help) the other.

The result, surely, will be better health care and more job satisfaction. The next decade ahead is going to be very exciting!

Yes, there is sex after conception...

It all began in early November when I was invited by the British Association of Sex Educators to take part in a seminar on sex in pregnancy and beyond.

I was delighted to have been asked. Because the thing that annoys me is that once conception's actually happened, both lay people and health professionals often assume that sex has done its duty and has become irrelevant.

Pregnancy itself - and the few months after birth - may be a period where stress, strain and raging hormones mean that lovemaking is the last thing on anyone's mind. Plus, he as well as she may be terrified that any form of vigorous exercise - particularly one that involves a penis in a vagina - is going to threaten the pregnancy. End result is all too often that sex goes on hold for at least a year and often more.

Of course, if that's truly a couple's choice, no pressure. But it needn't be that way. Human beings need touch - to reassure, to relax and to bond with each other. Hence I would argue that in that huge challenge that is parenthood, we need such touch more rather than less. So it's essential to help couples to realise that making love after conception is not only Permitted but also a Good Idea.

Hence I put together a 45-minute presentation which offered health professionals a simple guide to helping couples overcome the blocks to having sex, and summarised the best practical advice as to what's possible, what's inadvisable and how to get the most pleasure throughout pregnancy, labour and post partum.

I'm not commenting on my contribution - modesty forbids - but otherwise it was arguably one of the best seminars I've ever attended. The other speakers covered the the myths and the challenges of sexuality and suggested some ways of tackling those. The audience - including not only experienced midwives but also students, was attentive, eager and extremely enthusiastic. The feedback was highly positive. We're going to do it again - hopefully soon, hopefully throughout the country, and hopefully with an attached workshop for skills practice. Watch this space...

Only one thing saddened me. No names, no postmortems, but apparently the NHS hospital first approached as a venue for the training had refused, saying that they didn't feel it appropriate to be covering the practicalities of sexual pleasure during pregnancy. Which brings us, of course, full circle back to the preconceptions I originally railed against...

Well, all I can say is that that wasn't the attitude of the health professionals who attended the course, all of whom were vociferously in favour. So.. please lead me to the nearest wall and let me bang my head against it...