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  • Writer's pictureRachel Rubin

What are medical students taught about female sexual medicine? New research shows...not much.

Research is so important. I find myself telling patients every single day "we don't know that yet," "we're on the edge of science," and "I wish I had more data." There's so much that we don't know, especially when it comes to female sexual medicine.

A group of passionate, smart medical students in Chicago are helping to push the field of female sexual medicine forward. This group is the Medical Student Forum on Female Sexual Medicine. They bring together med students in Chicago and beyond to collaborate, learn, and educate about Female Sexual Medicine.

The amazing members of the Forum are demanding better education in their schools in the name of better outcomes for their future patients. They know that sexual medicine is a critical component of a comprehensive medical education.

Currently, female sexual medicine is underrepresented in medical school curricula. Any doctor or med student could tell you that. But, sometimes, evidence helps. The Forum has been working hard to quantify the gaps in female sexual anatomy, physiology, and clinical information. Their work was just published in Sexual Medicine. Here's what they found after collecting curriculum materials from 7 medical schools:

  • Anatomy: 1 school identified all anatomic components of the clitoris

  • Physiology: 4 schools discussed the physiology of the female orgasm

  • Prevalence of dysfunction: 3 schools highlighted the prevalence of female sexual dysfunction

  • Treatments: 3 schools addressed treatments for female sexual dysfunction

  • Physical exam: 1 school taught a physical exam specific to assessing female sexual dysfunction

After collecting Ob/Gyn clinical materials from the 7 institutions, the researchers found:

  • 5 schools included topics related to female sexual medicine.

  • Among those 5 schools, only 1 had an additional required 1-hour lecture on female sexual medicine and an optional online training in taking a comprehensive sexual history.

  • One other school offered supplemental case-based modules that included vulvovaginal diseases and chronic pelvic pain.

  • Sexual pleasure, arousal, and libido were not included.

Let me say that one more time: sexual pleasure, arousal, and libido were not included. These are crucial parts of many people's lives, and medical schools are not talking about them. Even what should be foundational—the anatomy of the clitoris—is taught by only 1 of the 7 institutions studied.

The results of this study highlight the need for standardized curricula related to female sexual medicine in medical education to equip future physicians to treat patients with sexual dysfunction. And to even simply assess female patients who don't have sexual dysfunction.

Collecting and publishing this data is just the beginning. The Forum plans on formatting these findings into curricular recommendations which they will share with course leadership at their various institutions.

Medical students and physicians often report being underprepared to address the sexual health needs of their patients—especially with regards to female sexual medicine. Female sexual medicine is rarely broached in the doctor's office, and stigma often prevents discussion between patients and their care teams. With this new research, we are a stop closer to ensuring that doctors have the proper training to deliver the care that all patients deserve.

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