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Shining the spotlight on women’s sexual health

I was excited when I got the call that Stanford's Leah Millheiser, MD, was starting her own blog on women’s sexual health. I’ve worked with Millheiser, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, numerous times over the years, and she has always been terrific at explaining often-complex medical and health issues in an easy-to-understand way. She's also very passionate about her line of work, so I assumed she'd be a natural at blogging. officially launched late last month (first post: “Human Papilloma Virus: What Women Really Want to Know”), and I recently had the chance to talk with Millheiser about her clinical work, her decision to blog, and her thoughts on why female sexual health is (still) a taboo topic for some. Those wanting to learn more can also follow Millheiser's Twitter feed, DrLeahM.

Your career focuses on treating all aspects of female sexual health. How did you wind up going into this field?

I've always had an interest in women's sexual health. I can remember listening to the Dr. Ruth Show on the radio back in the '80s and thinking to myself, "I want to do that!"

This dream became much clearer during my OB/GYN residency. At that time women would bring up a sexual concern and, if their concern wasn't shied away from by the physician, the answer usually was to go home and drink a glass of wine to relax. Unfortunately, at that time there really wasn't much more to offer! Since then, a vast amount of research and information regarding the causes and treatment of female sexual dysfunction has been published. This is a very real medical issue (43 percent of women in the U.S. have a sexual complaint) and should be addressed with the same level of importance given to male sexual dysfunction.

Who is your average patient, and are there certain concerns/issues that are universal among the women you treat?

I treat women across the lifespan for both general and sexual health concerns. The most common sexual health issue I treat is low libido in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women; sexual pain disorders are also common. Another area of clinical focus for me is the treatment of menopause.

Despite conversation about men’s sexual health being commonplace these days, it seems like female sexual health is still a taboo topic. Why do you think that is, and how important is it that we change that?

We know that there is still gender bias when it comes to treating sexual dysfunction in women. Currently, there are seven drugs approved by the FDA to treat erectile dysfunction while there are only two FDA-approved drugs to treat female sexual dysfunction. This treatment disparity becomes more concerning when you realize that female sexual health issues are far more common than male sexual health issues in the United States. Unfortunately, there is still a puritanical view when it comes to discussing women and sex. For example, it was more than acceptable to have a former presidential candidate advertising Viagra on primetime TV; however, a commercial for an over-the-counter treatment for female sexual dysfunction, which had research data supporting its use, could only be shown after 11 PM.

In the next few years, several treatments for female sexual dysfunction will be going to the FDA for approval. My hope is that the FDA will approve at least one of these drugs, ultimately sending a message that the treatment of female sexual dysfunction is just as important as the treatment of male sexual dysfunction.

What made you start a blog? was launched as a way to have a broader reach to women experiencing health concerns, especially as they relate to sexual function. We know from the data that women infrequently initiate a conversation about their sexual health to their primary care provider or OB/GYN. With blog entries that encompass "everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask," I hope to empower women to tackle the health issues that are important to them.

What other goals do you have for the blog, and what sorts of things do you intend to write about in the future?

My goal is to get the conversation started among women and their peers, their clinicians and their partners regarding their general health and sexual health. Many of my blog entries will serve to break the myths about common health problems affecting women. will have something for everybody, from the teenage years to menopause and beyond. My mantra has always been that knowledge is power and the mission of my blog is first and foremost to educate.

Are there specific topics that your patients have expressed an interest in learning more about?

My patients really enjoy hearing about updates in the treatment of sexual health. Many are cancer survivors who have sexual dysfunction as a result of their treatment and, often, are not eligible for hormone therapy. As the majority of treatments for female sexual dysfunction are used on an off-label basis, my patients want to know what's hot on the treatment front and if there is data to support the use of a particular therapy. Of course, my patients also want to know about health issues mentioned in the news. My blog will keep patients up to date and separate the fact from the fiction when it comes to their health.

How do you find the time to blog, and how would you advise other physicians who may be interested in blogging but don’t know where to start?

It's amazing how easy it is to blog! I spent two years putting off this project as I thought that I would never find the time with two boys under the age of 4 and a full-time job at Stanford. Once I actually started the process, though, it seemed effortless. Most academic clinicians go into their respective fields for the sake of educating, whether it is students or patients. Blogging isn't any different. I imagine that I'm giving a lecture to my patients and turn it into a blog entry. I think about what my readers want to hear. Although in the early stages, my blogging adventure is proving to be a great deal of fun and extremely satisfying!

You’ve said one of your passions is cooking. Might we see a few food-related items slipped into the blog?

There definitely will be food items on as they relate to health, of course! In my next life, my goal is to come back as a Food Network chef.

Previously: 33Charts’ Bryan Vartabedian talks about physician blogging, Women’s common sex complaints not being adequately addressed and Birth control pill may lead to sexual problems for women
Photo by SodanieChea

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