Barriers to seeking treatment for sexual problems in primary care: a qualitative study with older people

Fam Pract. 2003 Dec;20(6):690-5. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmg612.


Background: Although it is known that only a small minority of people experiencing sexual problems seek treatment for these, barriers to treatment seeking remain relatively unexplored. This is particularly true for older people, whose perceived "asexuality" has led to them being excluded from sexual health research.

Objective: The aim of the present study was to identify barriers experienced by older people in seeking treatment for sexual problems.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 22 women and 23 men aged 50-92 years recruited from the age/sex register of a Sheffield general practice. A central component of the interviews involved exploring participants' attitudes towards, and experiences of, seeking help for sexual problems. Interviews were analyzed using the "framework" approach.

Results: The GP was seen as the main source of professional help if sexual problems were experienced. However, several barriers were identified as inhibiting help being sought. These included the demographic characteristics of the GP, GP attitudes towards later life sexuality, the attribution of sexual problems to "normal ageing", shame/embarrassment and fear, perceiving sexual problems as "not serious" and lack of knowledge about appropriate services. Twenty-five participants had experienced recent sexual problems which informed their responses.

Conclusion: These findings indicate that many older people have sexual problems that they would like to discuss with their GP, but they feel unable to do so. GPs may need to be more proactive in raising sexual health issues in consultations if these needs are to be met.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / psychology*