Caroline West-Meads: ‘I can’t get my doctor to help me’

Ask Caroline

Q. I am a 64-year-old single woman and I have not had sex since I was 59 as it is extremely painful. I have tried lubricants but this doesn’t make a difference. I made an appointment with my GP two years ago and she just went through what the female reproductive system is for! She then said: ‘So, you’re done now.’ My boyfriend left me as I could not have sex (which I totally get). I always found having smear tests at the GP surgery so painful – and the heavy bleeding for a week afterwards very distressing – so I elected to have my most recent one in hospital. I was informed by the nurse that I have a tilted cervix and this is what has caused the pain during my other smear tests. I have also had problems with the menopause, which started when I was 52. I sleep badly and have no energy. I asked my GP if I needed HRT and she replied that I was too old. Then, earlier this year, I started getting terrible pain in my hip and I could not walk properly for about a month. I was referred by my doctor to hospital but X-rays came back negative for breaks or arthritis. My GP then told me to find a physiotherapist. Sometimes it feels as though my right leg will not hold my weight. Is this what I have to put up with now: no sex, no enthusiasm and no energy? If my GP cannot or is unwilling to help, where do I go from here?

A. It is exhausting living in pain or discomfort. Your doctor’s attitude is appalling. It reminds me of my stern biology teacher who (40 years ago) told our all-girls class of 15-year-olds ‘sex is only for having children and not something you need to get involved in before or afterwards’. You should not have to give up on a sex life at 64. Your GP should have taken your difficulties with sex seriously and realised what an impact this has had on your life. It has already cost you your relationship (which doesn’t say much for your ex-boyfriend). You are entitled to see a different doctor and get a second opinion, so do this. Also contact menopausesupport.co.uk. For a fee, you can book a consultation with one of their experts and they will write a letter to your GP suggesting a treatment plan. It is not necessarily too late for HRT and it could well help with your lack of energy and enthusiasm. Ask the new GP (hopefully a more sympathetic one) for a referral to a gynaecologist for help with the pain. You could also contact the charity jostrust.org.uk, which can offer expert advice on your cervix problems. But do take your doctor’s advice and see a physiotherapist for your hip. If you can get help for the physical problems, you might feel well enough to be able to find love again with someone more deserving. It is important you don’t feel that your love and sex life are over at 64. They don’t have to be.

‘Should I break up with my boyfriend?’

Q. I’m 24, in a same-sex relationship and I’ve been with my partner for six years. We are supposed to be moving into my nan’s house in two weeks to care for her. We split up last August because he had been sending another guy flirty messages. I met someone else and was having the time of my life. Then at Christmas we got back together because I felt bad. Since then we have been getting on like normal, although every day I ask myself whether I should stay and be with someone I don’t want to marry or leave and find someone to love properly. But I’m frightened that I’d be lonely. Last week I saw on his social media he was following that guy again and now I don’t know what to do. It’s mental torture.

A. I’m sorry you’re in such distress. I feel life will get easier once you have made a decision and, sadly, that should be to end the relationship. It doesn’t seem like either of you are truly committed – he is messaging someone else and you were happier without him. You returned out of guilt, but duty and loneliness are not good enough reasons. If someone is constantly wondering whether they should marry their partner, the answer is clear – no. Moving in together is a big commitment, so put it on hold. Breaking it off won’t be easy. Relate.org.uk can offer support or you can sometimes get free counselling on the NHS. Some organisations also provide low-cost counselling through their trainees. You’re a lovely grandson to want to care for your nan, but make sure you get support with this, too. Contact Age UK (ageuk.org.uk) and Carers UK (carersuk.org).