Sexual Orientation and Patient-Provider Communication About Sexual Problems or Concerns Among US Adults

J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Nov;34(11):2505-2511. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05300-3. Epub 2019 Aug 26.


Background: Limited patient-provider communication about sexual health is a crucial barrier to patients receiving treatment for sexual problems, and little is known about how patient sexual orientation is associated with patient-provider communication about sexual problems.

Objective: To describe the prevalence of patient-provider communication about sexual problems and the associations between communication and (1) persistent sexual problems and (2) whether those who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual had disclosed their sexual orientation to their clinicians.

Design: Cross-sectional, online survey PARTICIPANTS: 4325 English-speaking US adults from KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based sample of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population.

Main measures: Sexual orientation, disclosure of sexual orientation (being "out") to a health care provider, communication with health care providers regarding sexual problems or concerns, and persistent sexual problems or concerns.

Key results: In the past year, 8-15% of US adults discussed a sexual problem or concern with a health care provider. Between 23 and 42% of US adults reported persistent sexual problem(s) in the past year, and of those, 18% of gay/lesbian women, 20% of heterosexual women, 22% of bisexual women, 30% of gay men, 31% of heterosexual men, and 37% of bisexual men had discussed a sexual concern with a clinician. Eighty percent of gay/lesbian women and 70% of gay men had disclosed their sexual orientation to their regular health care provider, versus only 24% of bisexual men and women. Among those who were "out," 30% had ever talked to a clinician about a sexual problem compared with 17% of those who were not "out." A smaller proportion of lesbian women had ever received care or treatment for a sexual problem, 6% compared with 14-23% in the other groups.

Conclusions: There are significant unmet needs among US adults with regard to patient-provider communication about sexual problems or concerns. Improving patient-provider communication about sexual health is critical.

Keywords: communication; doctor-patient relationships; men’s health; patient-centered care; women’s health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disclosure / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Sexual Health*
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / psychology
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult