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Keywords:

  • consumer;
  • mental health;
  • nurse;
  • sexuality

ABSTRACT

Mental health consumers are sexual beings; however, their sexual desire, capacity, and ability to maintain previous sexual patterns can be altered by their illness or by the effects and side-effects of medications. The sexuality of consumers has been poorly addressed, and the limited evidence suggests that mental health nurses remain ambivalent to including sexuality in their care. This paper presents the findings of a research project investigating the practices of mental health nurses in assessing and supporting the sexuality of consumers. A qualitative, exploratory approach underpinned individual interviews with 14 mental health nurses from inpatient and community settings. The participants acknowledged the importance of sexuality; however, most were reluctant to enquire about consumer concerns and tended to either ignore the issue or refer it to another clinician. Four themes were identified: talking about or avoiding sexuality concerns with consumers; sexuality is not an important priority; refer to others, as talking about sexuality is not ‘my’ job; and sexuality is poorly addressed by others. It is important that barriers to the assessment and discussion of sexuality are identified, and measures are taken to overcome them.