Your sex life is not taboo. It’s part of a healthy life

Sanford Health OB/GYN offers weekly intimacy clinic for patients

Your sex life is not taboo. It’s part of a healthy life

Dr. Laurie Landeen wants your sex life to be her legacy.

That’s how important it is for this Sanford Health OB/GYN to talk about intimacy issues with the patients she sees every day in her practice.

“I’m not talking about anything dirty,” Dr. Landeen said. “Intimacy is part of our natural life and our well-being.”

For years, Dr. Landeen has set aside her last morning appointment to talk with patients about any barriers or misinformation they have about their sexual health.

She noticed that a lot of her patients were reluctant to bring up the topic themselves because they felt there was nothing they could do about it.

“My heart just breaks,” Dr. Landeen said. “They don’t know the options are out there because nobody’s talking about it.”

So now, she’s dedicating a few Fridays a month to offer time, space and specialists for patients address intimacy issues.

Here to help everyone with intimacy

Piloting in the Sanford Women’s Health Plaza in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dr. Landeen’s intimacy clinic is open to people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations.

“I am not here to tell people what they should and should not do,” she said. “I just want people to have a place of comfort. A place where they can know they have somebody they can talk with confidentially in private who cares and will work with them. I’m here to help address whatever issues they’re having and help them raise the bar so that they can have the life they want.”

Dr. Landeen makes it clear that intimacy is not just about sex. It’s about open and honest communication with your partner. It’s about having a healthy, positive self-image. It’s about not being afraid to have sexual relations with somebody because of past painful or traumatic situations. At its core, she said, “intimacy is about people enjoying the pleasure of the people they love.”

In addition to a team of medical specialists and a dedicated nursing staff, the intimacy clinic also has therapists, psychiatrists and chaplains available to help patients. Dr. Landeen is committed bringing everyone together to take care of the whole person.

Taking time to address the root cause

Patients can be referred to the intimacy clinic, or make an appointment themselves. No matter how common or complex a person thinks their issue is, their first appointment at the intimacy clinic includes both a physical exam and an in-depth conversation about their history.

“Doing a physical exam will help in the diagnosis and management if they have a medical condition,” Dr. Landeen said. “But really when it comes down to it, there are many other things that we need to work on. Because a lot of times, it’s addressing what came first: the problem with intimacy, or the psychological issues that cause issues with intimacy?”

Depending on each person’s situation, the recommended treatment may be a medical regimen, physical therapy, psychotherapy, couples therapy or, most likely, a combination of these options.

And it will take more than one visit to the clinic.

“This isn’t something that a patient will come in, and I’m going to give them a pill, and they’re going to walk out and they’re going to be just fine,” Dr. Landeen said.

“What got them here was probably years of issues, and it’s going to take time to get them back in the game again.”

Medical conditions can affect intimacy

Dr. Landeen notes that there are many medical issues that can affect a person’s ability to achieve their previous state of intimacy or arousal. For example:

  • Women who have diabetes have decreased blood flow to the end organs, including the clitoris.
  • High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease can cause erectile dysfunction.
  • Depression, anxiety and traumatic experiences can lead to avoidance behaviors and decreased libido. These often require counseling and therapy to work through.
  • STDs can cause scarring of the pelvic tissue or pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Conditions like endometriosis or interstitial cystitis can cause pain with intercourse.
  • Giving birth, going through menopause and receiving treatments for cancer all result in a drop in estrogen, often leading to vaginal dryness — a common source of pain with intercourse.
  • Menopause, surgeries and chemotherapy and radiation therapies can also affect a woman’s ability to climax.

“There are many women out there who are afraid to bring it up because the biggest taboo of all is talking about orgasm,” Dr. Landeen said. “Well, you know what? It is a natural human experience. A lot of women have misinformation about what an orgasm is and what it entails.”

When it comes to physical issues affecting intimacy, Dr. Landeen advocates for treatments that she’s seen great success with, including a vaginal laser called the Mona Lisa.

“The vaginal laser is not for rejuvenation — that’s a cosmetic term meaning to look pretty or beautiful,” she said. “This treatment option is about regeneration. This is a procedure to restore function.”

Bringing intimacy to the main stage

Dr. Landeen said helping people with intimacy issues is bigger than improving their sex life.

“Studies have clearly shown that people who have intimate relationships, they live longer, it helps their blood pressure,” she said. “If I can have this patient have a very healthy sexual and intimate life, they’re probably going to spend a lot less time with a lot of other medical issues and concerns that they’re having, maybe a lot of other hospitalizations or seeing providers for other issues where, really, it comes down to something that’s down my alley.”

Acknowledging the importance of intimacy is the crux of Dr. Landeen’s education efforts for patients, other providers and insurance companies.

She hopes that over time, the education, resources and success of the intimacy clinic leads to more clinics for patients in other areas.

“I would like to leave this as the legacy, as something we didn’t shove under the rug,” Dr. Landeen said. “By the time I retire, I’d hope this is just the norm — recognizing that intimacy is such an important part of our lives.”

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Posted In Healthy Living, Menopause Care, Women's