‘I daresay I might find it embarrassing’: general practitioners’ perspectives on discussing sexual health issues with lesbian and gay patients


Sharron Hinchliff Sheffield Institute for Studies on Ageing Elmfield Northumberland Road Sheffield S10 2TU UK E-mail: s.hinchliff@sheffield.ac.uk


The present paper explores general practitioners’ (GPs’) perspectives on the difficulties which they face when discussing sexual health issues with lesbian and gay patients in primary care consultations. It draws upon data obtained from a qualitative interview study with 22 GPs aged between 34 and 57 years who were practising in Sheffield, UK. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and the data were analysed thematically. The results indicate that (non-hetero)sexual orientation could form a barrier to talking about sexual health matters for almost half of this GP sample. Difficulties related primarily to ignorance of lesbian and gay lifestyles and sexual practices, and also included concerns about the appropriate language to use and assumptions about the nature of gay men's relationships. Homophobic attitudes were also identified in a minority of the sample. Participants suggested improvements around improving communication about sexual health with lesbian and gay patients. These included training at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, taking a proactive role during consultations, not making assumptions about patients’ sexual orientation and having a non-discriminatory policy for their practice.