A generation ago, being depressed or suffering from anxiety (not to mention having serious mental health problems) almost always meant suffering in silence.

The stigma meant that few wanted to talk about it. The doctors paid no attention to such matters. Most considered mental illness unfortunate, but it didn’t make much of a difference to a patient’s physical health. Today, the stigma has faded, but it hasn’t entirely disappeared. Early treatment often stops the issue at its root.

One would expect a similar transformation in the case of sexual problems, today under the same cloak of taboo and shame that once shrouded mental health. One in five men in the United States and Europe suffer from erectile dysfunction at some point in his life; Half of British women say they have had a sexual problem in the last year, including pain during intercourse or difficulty reaching orgasm. Simple lack of desire is common, especially among women.

A matter to talk about

Banalities? A matter that is better not to talk about? Sexual problems can be precursors to other diseases, such as diabetes. Erectile dysfunction is, along with smoking and a family history of heart disease, an indicator of heart problems. Doctors who ask about it are able to make an early diagnosis and offer preventative coronary treatment.

Sexual problems in general are believed to contribute to between one fifth and one half of divorces; Reducing that number would prevent misery and impoverishment for many adults and children. Erectile problems are both a cause and a consequence of anxiety, which makes life more difficult to bear. Low labor productivity is twice as high among men with these problems as among those without.

Most people who take antidepressants don’t need them

Addressing sexual dysfunction can be simple and inexpensive. An easy victory would be achieved by changing the way children learn about sex. Instead of focusing solely on avoiding negative aspects (such as illness or unwanted pregnancy), teachers could encourage discussions about pleasure and how to talk about it with your partner, as well as communicating and understanding enthusiastic consent. . Sexual problems often appear in adolescence and are aggravated by adolescents’ general discomfort with the opposite (or even their own) sex. So we would have to teach them that as well, and not worry too much about the giggles in the background.

Critics may object that sex is everywhere in modern culture and that more talk about it is the last thing we need. Such an approach is wrong. Sex in movies and on TV, not to mention pornography, bears little relation to real life. Trying to learn about sex with Hollywood is like watching James Bond movies for career advice as a British civil servant. It’s better to steer teens to more realistic sources, such as BISH, a British website that answers all sorts of specific questions that concern young people when they start to have sex.

Part of medical training

More ambitiously, sexual problems should be a fundamental part of medical training. Only then will doctors start talking about them routinely, as they do about boils, physical exertion, heart disease, and other health-related matters. Much suffering can be avoided simply by providing people with honest information about what is happening to them and why it is happening to them. Often what patients need is just that and a few therapy sessions, some pelvic muscle exercises, or proposals for simple lifestyle changes. All of those things are included in apps today, some of which have been approved by medical authorities.

Physicians, too, must let go of their inhibitions. It is difficult to solve problems if they are not understood first. Research projects are often blocked because the members of the evaluation committee find the subject uncomfortable. And to puritans who doubt that simple pleasure is enough of a reason to change things, it should be pointed out that better research on sex is likely to lead to better public health. Studies show that when the discussion of pleasure is part of HIV prevention programs, condom use is increased. (The act of putting it on can be part of the erotic game, for example).

From tragedy to romance

The sexual act is one of the greatest joys of human life. In its most accomplished manifestations, it is a source of ecstasy and a shared expression of enduring affection. The fact that so many people find it painful or disappointing is a tragedy. However, for a large part of them, it could be something much more pleasant. Being more open about sexual relationships is one of the easiest ways to improve happiness and health. So why not give it a try?

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