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Coming clean?

Q: As an aide (female, 26) in a nursing facility, part of my job involves bathing clients. Most often this is done while they sit or stand, depending on their health status. I wash them with a soapy sponge in my right hand while I hold a sprayer in my left hand for wetting and rinsing. One morning I was bathing a man in his late 50s. He was standing while I scrubbed his back, buttocks, anal area and perineum. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that he had an erection. Only then did I realize I had been spraying his genitals directly for the whole time. I stopped spraying that area immediately and went on with his bath as though nothing was unusual. Neither of us said a word. I have been wondering what might have happened had I continued spraying his erect penis much longer. Could a man actually come that way? If so, how long would it take? I know from using my own sprayer at home that it can be very stimulating, so I have to be careful. Would it be better not spraying the genital area at all?

A: You think rinsing off soap by rubbing his genitals with a warm wet cloth would be less stimulating? You are performing a very personal service on people who may well be touch-deprived, in which case a shampooing of the head might be sexually arousing. What it takes or how long to get someone off is very individual to person and circumstance. I don't suggest on-the-job research. You might hand a patient the sponge or cloth and tell them to wash between their own legs, or continue to do all necessary touching in a professional, nonseductive manner as usual, being careful not to linger with the spray. I'm sure Miss Manners would agree with me that the best way of dealing with a patient's occasional lapse of decorum, especially since it's involuntary, is ignoring it as you have done.

Q: Recently I began working in a surgical center where I am one of three technicians, two women and a man. We have many different jobs, but one of them has me puzzled, so I decided to ask you about it. You probably know that for surgery the operating site has to be shaved and scrubbed. The "prep," as we call it, includes a wide area. For example, for abdominal surgery we shave from the nipples to midthigh, including the pubic hair. For most leg surgery the shave starts at the top of the pubic bone and goes down to the toes. The male technician is assigned to shave only male patients. The two female technicians are given both male and female patients at random. The attitude seems to be that male patients are not modest and don't care if their pubic area is shaved by a woman. Based on my experience, I know that is not true at all. The men I shave are invariably shocked when I walk in with my soap and razor and tell them what is about to be done. During the prep they are terribly embarrassed and red-faced. The other female technician agrees that her male patients are usually mortified. Where did my superiors ever get the idea that being shaved by a female wouldn't bother a male? Why is there a double standard which won't let our male technicians prep females? If our male technician was sent in to shave a woman I think she'd be embarrassed, of course, but no more embarrassed than the men are. Can you explain this to me?

A: One explanation is that no one has brought this to the attention of your supervisors. Another is that they are a bunch of insensitive clods. Let them know that you would like to save many of your male patients distress and suggest that the work be divided by sexes (although that may mean twice as much work for the male technician, who may not care for this solution). You might also decide among yourselves that you will ask each patient whether they would prefer to have the prepping done by someone of their own sex. You may be surprised that many men and some women really have no preference as long as the job is done in a professional way and with no "oopsies."

Q: I have an upcoming stay in the hospital. Have you ever seen what they give you to wear? Those silly gowns with several little ties cover all the unnecessary parts and leave what most of us would prefer to have covered flapping in the breeze. How do I educate the hospital staff?

A: By writing letters such as this to columnists such as me and by my printing them, and by bringing with you pajamas, sweat suits, a sleep shirt or whatever you're comfortable wearing and hope that officious staff won't insist on your changing into one of those silly little garments just because it's "hospital regulations." Isadora Alman is a board-certified sexologist and a California-licensed marriage-and-family therapist. Contact her via this paper or askisadora@sfbg.com. Her Sexuality Forum is at

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