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Sexual health promotion in primary care – activities and views of general practitioners and practice nurses

  • Kate Thompson (a1) (a2), Karen Casson (a2), Paul Fleming (a1) (a3), Frank Dobbs (a1) (a4), Kader Parahoo (a1) (a2) and Janice Armstrong (a5)...

Sexual health in Northern Ireland (NI) is poor compared with the rest of Europe with increasing incidences of sexually transmitted infections and one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. Traditionally, sexual health services have been provided in a fragmented way by a wide range of different providers but recent sexual health strategies have flagged sexual health as a key activity within the primary care setting.


The main aim of the study was to assess the sexual health promotion activities within the primary care setting across one Health and Social Services Board in NI.


A series of semi-structured interviews with both general practitioners (GPs) and practice nurses (PNs) was conducted to assess their views on the key issues in relation to sexual health in primary care. A questionnaire survey was also conducted with these health professionals to elicit information about sexual health promotion activities within the primary care setting.


The results have shown that promoting sexual health within the primary care setting is often ad hoc and often does not target the ‘at-risk’ population. As such, GPs and PNs tend not to discuss sexual health with non-heterosexual clients or those with learning disabilities due to lack of awareness and training. Health professionals feel inadequately trained to engage in effective sexual health promotion and to provide enhanced sexual health services. Personal embarrassment and lack of time were also identified as barriers for providing effective sexual health care.


Health professionals within the primary care setting require additional training to deal with the sensitive and complex issues inherent in the area of sexual health.

Corresponding author
Correspondence to: Kate Thompson, Institute of Nursing Research, University of Ulster, Cromore Road, Coleraine BT52 1SA, UK. Email:
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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M.W. Adler 1998: Sexual health. British Medical Journal 317, 1470.

M. Gott , E. Galena , S. Hinchliff H. Elford 2004: ‘Opening a can of worms’: GP and practice nurse barriers to talking about sexual health in primary care. Family Practice 21, 528536.

S. Hinchliff , M. Gott E. Galena 2005: ‘I daresay I might find it embarrassing’: general practitioners’ perspectives on discussing sexual health issues with lesbian and gay patients. Health and Social Care in the Community 13, 345353.

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S. Jolley 2001: Promoting teenage sexual health: an investigation into the knowledge, activities and perceptions of gynaecology nurses. Journal of Advanced Nursing 36, 246255.

R. Sadovsky M. Nusbaum 2006: Sexual health inquiry and support is a primary care priority. Journal of Sexual Medicine 3, 311.

D. Savarimuthu T. Bunnell 2003: Sexuality and learning disabilities. Nursing Standard 17, 3335.

G.L. Stein K.A. Bonuck 2001: Physician–patient relationship among the gay and lesbian community. Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association 5, 8793.

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Primary Health Care Research & Development
  • ISSN: 1463-4236
  • EISSN: 1477-1128
  • URL: /core/journals/primary-health-care-research-and-development
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