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Empowered by the Urology Care Foundation™: Advancing Women’s Sexual Health in Urology

By: Rebecca Pankove, MS, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia | Posted on: 19 Jan 2024

Other? General/Miscellaneous? Not Otherwise Specified? As I scrolled through the drop-down menu to categorize my research project, there was no designated category for women’s sexual health. I thought to myself: Is there really a place for it within urology? Will the field take my research seriously? Despite my initial doubts, I knew that the women I met during my clinical rotations deserved more than an “other” label. Their challenges are worthy of study and consideration.

During my clinical rotations as a third-year medical student, I observed dozens of women accept their sexual concerns as an inevitable part of aging or surgical recovery. I comforted a woman who, after a radical cystectomy, was cancer-free but faced a new obstacle: grieving the loss of the parts of her body that made her feel feminine and sexual. Then there was a salsa dancer who could no longer dance, get out of the car, or be intimate without urinating on herself. Time and again, I saw providers expertly treat the immediate urological issue, while the sexual and emotional side effects were left unexplored. I wondered, who helps the woman with postoperative sexual dysfunction, or the salsa dancer with sexual shame due to incontinence?

Seeking answers, I reviewed the literature, expecting a wealth of information. To my surprise, resources and research focused on female sexual dysfunction are sparse. Besides a small yet vocal group of inspiring urologists, few providers seem to take ownership of treating women’s sexual health. I recognized a pressing need for people to not only research, but actively address the multifaceted aspects of women’s sexual health. That’s when I considered exploring a multidisciplinary approach.

Driven by a passion for improving the sexual health of women with chronic urological conditions, I designed a qualitative research project. Under the invaluable mentorship of Dr Akanksha Mehta at Emory and Dr Daniela Wittmann at University of Michigan, I am investigating factors that influence how urologists and sex therapists approach women’s sexual health concerns. Early results from my in-depth interviews have revealed 3 key gaps in care: a need for more focused training, a lack of communication, and the significance of integrated collaborative care. These initial insights offer a blueprint for strategies that can enhance comprehensive care for women with chronic urological conditions.

Receiving the Summer Medical Student Fellowship award is more than an honor; it validates that my work belongs in urology. This award marks a commitment from the urology community to engage with and deepen the conversation around women’s sexual health. As pioneers in sexual medicine, urologists possess the necessary skills to address this underserved aspect of care, and ensure women’s sexual well-being is a priority. I am grateful for this award, as it provides the means to conduct and disseminate my research to the urology and sex therapy community. More than a personal achievement, this recognition inspires a profound sense of purpose in me. It empowers me to make a difference in the lives of patients, both seen and unseen, as I contribute to shaping a specialty that is as dynamic and nuanced as the individuals it serves. I may have struggled to categorize my research in the beginning, but now I know the field of urology is ready to embrace the challenge of treating women’s sexual health. As I move forward, energized by this award, I am thrilled to be part of the movement that cements women’s sexual well-being as not just an option, but a fundamental element of urological care.