After observing me take a patient history, the medical student at the HIV clinic the other day commented, "We just finished a module on how to ask patients about their sexual practices. They taught us all these ways to be sensitive and non-judgmental. We practiced saying things like, 'Some women like to have sex with men, and some women like to have sex with women . . .'" She concluded enthusiastically, "But I like your way much better!"
My way is to simply ask, "Do you have sex with men, women, neither or both?"
I find the point-blank question much more efficient than a carefully crafted conversation of gentle prodding and suggestions. It's such a naked question that it's completely stripped of any judgment. In my opinion, the more you fret and fiddle about how to phrase the question, the more room there is to offend or make the patient uncomfortable.
No one's ever batted an eye at my question, and I've posed it countless times, to eighty-year-old professors, married women from Langley, and single men living in the West End. I ask it of everyone, however obvious their orientation might seem, because, if I still had the capacity to be surprised by people's answers, I would be.