Recommending Sex Toys in the NHS

Recommending Sex Toys in the NHS

Read about the author Samantha Evans

Sexual intimacy and pleasure are often overlooked by healthcare professionals (HCPs) due to embarrassment, preconceived ideas about who should be having sex and personal views about the subject. Yet sex is important to so many people and when they have sexual issues, finding ways to overcome them is important to enjoying a good life.

There are some amazing HCPs who care about your sex life and recognise the health benefits of enjoying sex and having an orgasm offers.

As a former nurse, co-founder of online sex toy company Jo Divine and someone who has overcome sexual health issues because I enjoy sex too, I write my sexual health and pleasure articles to offer practical advice.

This came about from the conversations we have with our customers who tell us about the poor or nonexistent advice being given by their GP or consultant when they have a sexual problem. Many tell us they are often told they have to live with their problem, to give up on their sex life or that they are too old. This is why many come to us to buy a sex toy to enjoy sexual intimacy and pleasure in whatever way they can.

A 2012 paper, “Why don’t healthcare professionals talk about sex?”, found that only 6% of practitioners initiated discussions about sexual health problems on a regular basis.

Many of those who do discuss sexual problems with their patients rarely offer simple, common sense solutions, such as prescribing a sexual lubricant or suggest using a sex toy. Instead they refer them for sex therapy, for which there is often a long wait, or prescribe medication or some medical device that is often ineffective and patients will not use. Using a sex toy is much more fun than popping a pill and few side effects!

Many people, young and old, struggle to regain their sex life following cancer treatment, especially breast, gynaecological and prostate cancer because they get little or no advice about ways to enjoy sex again.

In 2015 The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges published guidelines which recommended sex as as a form of exercise and many GPs say they wish they could prescribe sex and masturbation because they recognise the benefits it brings to health from having regular orgasms to preventing erectile dysfunction.

“Use it or lose it” is a commonly used phrase but completely true when it comes to sexual function.

In March 2017 Cochrane UK launched a blog campaign on Evidently Cochrane called The Problem With Sex. The Cochrane reviews revealed the lack of relevant and reliable evidence for those experiencing sexual difficulties associated with chronic health conditions and treatments, highlighting the lack of medical research into sexual issues and that HCPs don’t talk about sex.

Recent research by Leeds University published in the Lancet Oncology journal (2019), found 81 per cent of men were left with poor sexual function after their treatment.

There are many treatments for impotence, including cheap and effective pills, using penis pumps and suitable sex toys, yet 56 per cent of men in the study received no intervention or support at all.

Research from Breast Cancer Care (2018) has found that eight in 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer say they are unhappy with their sex lives after undergoing treatment. 83% of those surveyed had been diagnosed over three years ago, suggesting that some women continue to struggle for a long time without support.

In 2015 we were invited to Tunbridge Wells Hospital at the request of Consultant Urogynaecologist, Dr Alex Slack and Women’s Health Physiotherapist (WHPT), Pip Salmon, to show them suitable sex toys they could recommend to their patients to help them overcome sexual problems and enjoy sex again.

As a result of this conversation we created a health brochure containing sex toys, lubricants and pelvic floor exercisers that can help with a whole range of gynaecological problems such as vaginal tightness, vaginal dryness, postoperative scarring, decreased sexual sensations and symptoms of the menopause.

Recognising the benefits of sex toys for sexual health and wellbeing, Dr Alex Slack says he treats many of his patients so they can enjoy sex again which is such a refreshing attitude but not a commonly held view. He even struggles with the attitude of some of his colleagues about sexual issues.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it”. It is important to stay healthy and of course happy. Maintaining a good healthy sex life helps to keep the pelvic floor strong, prevents incontinence and prolapse as well as keeping the circulation going to prevent atrophy and associated problems. If sex toys help you achieve this and they are giving you pleasure they have to be a good thing”. Pip Salmon WHPT

The health brochure is being given out by many healthcare professionals across the UK including women’s health and men’s health physiotherapists who are one of the most innovative, proactive group of HCPs I have ever worked with; they are brilliant. Many recommend our website as a resource for sexual health advice and products which they know help their patients.

“I often try to get my sexual health patients to use a vibrator instead of a standard dilator. They (hopefully) already associate the vibrator with pleasure, which can be a significant help with their recovery from vaginismus/dyspareunia. We know from the research that low frequency vibrations can be sedative for the pelvic floor muscles, whereas higher frequencies are more stimulating. After all, the goal of my sexual rehab clients is to return to sexual pleasure, not just to ‘tolerate’ the presence of something in their vagina!” (Michelle Lyons, co-founders of the Women’s Health Physiotherapy Group and Womens Health physiotherapist)

Often people feel their body is being hijacked by their illness or disease such as cancer and being able to enjoy sexual pleasure is something they can take back control of beyond popping a pill and using a sex toy is much more fun and has far fewer side effects than medication!

“Samantha’s products and information has been a life changer for many of my patients. Her web site is definitely one worthy of a view and also to signpost patients/clients to. Your website is a god send as far as I’m concerned!! Most of my patients don’t want to look at the likes of Ann Summers, they want good honest reviews of products with articles they can relate to….. really well done!” Aisling Burke WH physio

Dr Louise Newson is a GP and medical writer with a particular interest in menopause says
bq. “Most of my patients do not have sex any more – such a shame. They change once their HRT is right though. I am amazed how few women have sex and put up with it. Also don’t know how their husbands cope. They also often say they have never been asked about sex by anyone before and are pleased to have the opportunity to talk about it. I usually recommend Jo Divine”

Dr Hannah Short is a GP in Suffolk with a particular interest in women’s health and said,

“Need to let you know that ++ patients have been enormously grateful for the varied articles on your website. They’ve found them incredibly helpful, reassuring and less alone/isolated. Thank you for your work – it’s much appreciated, I can assure you!” (via twitter)

Dr Stephanie DeGiorgio, a GP in Kent who enjoys talking about sex and recommending suitable sex toys to her patients says,

“The professional satisfaction that comes from someone coming back to tell me how much fun they are having is immense. Our sex lives can be so important to us and having a lighthearted but important discussion about something like sex toys in my GP surgery can make a massive difference to my patients. Long may the times continue for me to be able to do this”.

On a fun note but practical note our health brochures are being given out in goody bags and she has some sex toys as prizes at the Edinburgh Fringe this year by Gussie Grips (aka Elaine Miller, a women’s health physiotherapist) whose comedy show about the pelvic floor both educates and entertains people at the same time. She says,

“It’s so important to have links between medical professionals and industry- I think you are unique” referring to the articles I write and how we normalise sex, not medicalise it.

From the GPs telling their patients to “buy one of these” in our health brochure to the physiotherapists printing out our articles for their patients who are not online but will benefit from having an informative article to read, we are lucky to work with such amazing healthcare professionals who care about their patient’s sex lives and offer help and advice beyond the confines of medicine and their training to make this possible.