Ask a simple question…

Me: Are you sexually active?
Patient A: No.
Me: So, when was the last time you had sex?
Patient A: Last week.
Me: I’m sorry, I thought you said you weren’t sexually active. Should I have asked that differently?
Patient A: You should have just asked me if I have sex.

Me: Do you have sex?
Patient B: Not really.
Me: So you’re not sexually active.
Patient B: No, I am.
Me: And the last time you had sex was…?
Patient B: Yesterday.
Me: I seem to be asking the wrong question…
Patient B: You should just ask me when was the last time I had sex.

Me: When was the last time you had sex?
Patient C (annoyed): How do you know I have sex?
Me: I was just asking…
Patient C: Why not just ask me if I’m sexually active?

17 Responses to Ask a simple question…

  1. Perhaps you should ask:
    “When you have sex, are you active?”
    “Are you engaging in activities apart from sex?”
    “Do you consider sex an activity?”

    The truth is, we ask it on a piece of paper and it seems to be easier for them to circle “yes” than it would be for them to do it answering directly.


    By the way – I very much enjoy reading your blog as well. I usually “lurk” due to time constraints.

  2. Best answer (from med school; probably apochryphal):

    Q: Are you sexually active?
    A: No, I just lie there.

    (I started to say how I handle this, but I realized it’d make a cool post. I shall of course link and credit you.)

  3. How often do you have sex…
    with another person?
    without needing batteries?
    without imagining George Clooney in your bed?

  4. Bardiac:
    Ah, you’ve hit on the crux of this pst. While it is humorous, it actually is meant to point to the real dilemma I face every day – what is the best (and to be honest, the easiest and quickest) way to get an accurate sexual history? The kind of history that lets me know if my patient is at risk for pregnancy or STD’s, which changes my differential diagnoses tremendously if she is presenting with any sort of complaint. I am continually stymied by the answers I get, and have learned always to ask a second question to get at the information I really care about.

  5. Judy:

    It’s impossible….

    I too use a piece of paper, but sometimes need a bit more clarity than a yes…
    Ditto re your blog.

    Look forward to reading it.

    Andy 🙂

    You imagine George too? 🙂

  6. As someone who is “still looking” (a really long time now, like years), I’d say answering “no” when it is the truth is a bit embarassing, like something is wrong with me.

    So, I usually joke “nobody wants me” or something like it.

  7. I was in the ER last year and the patients are on beds separated by just a pull curtain. I overheard this conversation:

    Dr: Do you have an alcohol problem?
    Patient: No, I quit drinking.
    Dr: How long has it been since your last drink?
    Patient: This morning.

    I had to keep from laughing out loud.


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