on June 4th, 2013 1 Comment
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.
drleahm.com 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?
drleahm.com 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.