She talks about sex

SINGAPORE- Dr Srilatha Balasubramanian boosts her patients' sex lives by promoting mutual trust between couples.

I specialise in sexual medicine because...

Albeit a path less trodden, sexual medicine has evolved in the last four decades to become an incredible, multidisciplinary speciality.

Everything that we do amazingly translates into finer changes in the quality of life of our patients.

The reproductive organs are fascinating because...

Of their ability to mix procreation with recreation. When people have sex, the cascade of events from the brain and limbic system which governs this ancient neurobiological function in humans also promotes interpersonal relationship and companionship.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I would be...

A cosmetologist. This person strives to create or improve appearances with make-up or beauty treatment. In the same way, I positively influence my patients' sex lives and body image through an empathetic approach, promoting communication and mutual trust between the couple.

In an Asian setting, many women are still too inhibited to voice their sexual concerns.

Their distress may therefore take a back seat as sexual dysfunction is not a life-threatening problem.

A typical day for me would...

Start around 5am when I would walk my toy poodle around my neighbourhood.

At work, I split my time between research and patient care. I focus particularly on women's issues at the Relationship Counselling and Therapy Clinic, which is an annexe to the Menopause Clinic in the National University Hospital.

I keep abreast of scientific developments around the world through my involvement in the International Society for Sexual Medicine and contributions to its official journal, The Journal Of Sexual Medicine.

I also volunteer at a non-profit voluntary welfare organisation, Therapy Dogs Singapore, which takes up most of my weekends.

I have come across all types of cases...

With patients having specific concerns at different life stages, such as fertility, antenatal (before birth) and post-natal changes of the body, as well as menopause and ageing maladaptations.

A number of medical conditions, which are common with ageing, may affect sexual health. These include high blood pressure or lipid levels, diabetes mellitus, urological problems, as well as psychological issues, such as depression.

Older people are also likely to be on several prescription drugs, which may give rise to sexual impairment as a side effect.

The decline in hormonal levels with age may cause hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which is a lack of interest in sexual activity.

Even socio-cultural and environmental factors can create barriers to sexual functioning in the elderly.

I love patients who are...

Open, motivated and committed to complying with treatment and counselling for sexual dysfunction.

Patients who get my goat are...

Those who are so embarrassed about their sexual concerns that they would rather seek unproven and even risky treatment options, such as purported aphrodisiacs or over-the-counter nutritional or vitamin supplements.

One little known fact about sexuality is...

It has an immense impact on one's interpersonal relationship.

A fulfilling marital life is not just about the physical intimacy, but also the successful emotional connectivity of the couple, which is achieved over time through countless negotiations and compromise on numerous issues.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

When patients tell me they have resolved their conflicts with their partners following sex therapy.

Recently, an overseas patient shared the joy of her first pregnancy through e-mail. She had vaginismus - a condition in which the muscles around the vagina involuntarily tighten, making intercourse painful or impossible - and the couple had three counselling sessions with me. I helped them resolve their interpersonal problems and addressed her misconceptions and fears so she could relax during physical intimacy.

At home, I enjoy the unconditional love of my dog, Jarus.

It breaks my heart when...

Patients are adamant or complacent and fail to make simple lifestyle adjustments to improve their quality of life, which, in turn, affects their sexual health and sex life.

These lifestyle adjustments include reducing one's stress levels, seeking medical attention to treat health problems, keeping a balanced diet and exercising regularly.

I would not trade places for the world because...

This is a vibrant field where evidence-based research has translated into positive clinical outcomes for silent sufferers. Sexual medicine will continue to grow as more people understand the value of this medical discipline.

My best tip...

Is for people to be willing to make small changes in their lives.

A culture of open communication will also help prevent the vicious circle of harbouring negative thoughts towards significant people in our lives and, hence, promote a happier and healthier environment.

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