WHAT? How did personal sexuality get into this conversation? Sexuality goes out the window when we put on those scrubs, right? Wrong.
You are a sexual being. Heck, you are human. As such, your body will physiologically respond when you see an attractive individual. This will be weird.
So, how can you be professional and be human?
Gather close and let me tell you. It’s not a secret. It just takes awareness, being compassionate to yourself, and understanding professional boundaries. Welcome to that awkward phase of professional puberty that absolutely NO ONE talks about.
As a nurse you will realize that you get to see ALL of people. I mean, ALL.
You aren’t just going to see their faces or their torsos. You are also going to see their genitals. In fact, you should see their genitalia if you are doing your assessments properly. Yes, you assess penises and vaginas. I said those words. Now you will too. The more you say them the less power these words will have over you. These are normal anatomically correct words that we don’t often use because we switch them with euphemisms.
Get comfortable saying, “Penis” and “Vagina”. Watch the tone that you use when you say it. Normalize it. Say it until you stop turning red or giggling.
Psst…did I forget to tell you? You are also going to touch them. When I say touch I mean that you are going to touch the genitalia of perfect strangers. What? Yes. That is going to be awkward. There. It’s said. How can you get used to it?
Practice putting on a glove on your lab partner’s hand. Get one of those cheap stretchy gloves that you find at the checkout at one of the Marts. Have your lab partner or friend put their hand on the table. Their hand needs to be completely relaxed and you put the glove on. This will simulate holding and manipulating a penis.
To simulate cleaning a vagina have your lab partner take off their socks and clean (front to back) between their toes. Separate each toe and clean.
I have to tell you that biological responses happen. Men may become aroused because you are touching them. Well, so do the ladies.
If this happens here are things not to do-
- Don’t smack it.
- Don’t scream or point.
- Don’t walk out of the room (despite what some skills videos tell you).
This is embarrassing for the patient and for you as you streak down the hall because you’ll have to go back.
Here’s what to do if erections happen clitoral or otherwise-
- Act casual.
- Finish what you were doing.
- Be professional. Keep talking about the Red Sox, their family pet, and/or their family.
- If they seem really embarrassed then give them a minute. Cover them up and tell them that you have to go grab something.
Now, let’s talk about your awkward sexual response. When you see a sexually attractive individual your body is going to respond just like it would if you were on your personal time and your mind is also going to pipe up with thoughts that may not be appropriate to the situation.
As a professional that can be awkward. If you run from these thoughts or try to ignore them it could ruin a trust building relationship. Also, just because you run doesn’t mean that you won’t think these thoughts.
You are human. These thoughts are normal.
So, how do you handle these thoughts and feelings with professionalism?
- Acknowledge that you are feeling that way.
- Don’t ignore it. It won’t make it go away. Accept these feelings and move on. (Tip: Don’t admit these feelings to your patient. That is not their concern. Reflect privately.)
- Acknowledge that they are hot. Not the feelings but the person. Don’t dwell on it just accept it. It takes away the power over your libido. (Again, don’t involve your patient in on this private conversation.)
- If you need to, remove yourself for a moment. Don’t just leave. Excuse yourself to go get something. Or say, “I hear the phone ringing and I called the MD earlier. I’ll be right back.” Take some deep breathes.
Remind yourself that you are a nurse and they trust you with the most intimate parts of themselves. You are not currently your personal self. You are your professional persona.
Remind yourself that you are responsible for this person’s life and you need to keep objectivity.
If you are having trouble getting the thoughts out of your mind. Then try this-
- Think of them like a relative…a very close relative that you want to protect and would never think of in a humna-humna kind of way.
Advice on Being a Good Nurse: Flirting with a patient can be tempting. Yet it compromises your integrity as a professional and your judgment as a nurse. Be friendly and compassionate.
Clinical Advice: This applies to being a good nurse. Don’t ever talk about the “hotness” of a patient with other healthcare professionals. If you want to talk about it do it after clinical. NEVER in the clinical area. This erodes your professionalism in the eyes of your colleagues and your patient. There is no magic bubble around the nursing station and your patient could hear it and feel awkward or compromised.
Nursing is surreal. This will change the way you view the world. That’s okay.
Welcome to the tribe of nursing. We have all gone through this and you are not alone.