Women Don't Have To Tolerate Sexual Dysfunction
February 11, 2021
Female sexual dysfunction is more common than diabetes. But even though sexuality is important to most women over the majority of their lifetime, many women are uncomfortable discussing sexual dysfunction issues with their health care providers. Adding to the discomfort-many health care providers are not tuned in to the problem.
Female Sexual Dysfunction, Concerns are Common
One in 10 women have a diagnosable condition related to sexual dysfunction, and 43 percent of women report having a sexual problem such as low desire, problems with arousal or orgasm, or pain with sexual activity, says psychologist Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD.
Often, these problems overlap. One in 10 of these women report they are distressed by the problem, the hallmark criteria for a diagnosis, Dr. Kingsberg says.
Sexual dysfunction also affects women who survive cancer — an ever-increasing number. More than half of women with breast cancer, and 65 to 90 percent of women with gynecological cancers, report long-term sexual dysfunction as a result of their cancer or cancer treatment, creating additional psychological distress and reduced quality of life for these survivors, Dr. Kingsberg says.
The Topic is Taboo
Yet, despite the prevalence of sexuality concerns, many women are uncomfortable discussing these issues with their primary care provider or gynecologist. They endure these issues silently, which can negatively affect their relationships and quality of life, says obstetrician/gynecologist Rachel Pope, MD, MPH.
“There’s an underlying taboo around women’s sexuality and sexual health, an underlying shame or embarrassment,” Dr. Pope says. “We’re hoping to put this to rest. Although sexual health problems vary widely, the thing they have in common is that people don’t like talking about them publicly and women don’t know where to turn to for help.”
At the same time, sexual health is critically important to the overall health and quality of life for women, regardless of age, Dr. Pope says.
One study found roughly 60 percent of women in their 60s are sexually active and another found nearly one-quarter of married women in their 70s are as well. Furthermore, the AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults found that 60 percent of women say sex is a critical component to a good relationship.
Health Care Providers
More than one-third of women who sought medical help for their sexual health issues felt their concerns were not adequately addressed or taken seriously enough, Dr. Kingsberg says.
Better dialogue between women and health care providers, and understanding there is no stigma in having sexual problems are important first steps.
Unfortunately, most health care providers are not trained or not comfortable screening for — much less diagnosing or treating — sexual dysfunction,” Dr. Kingsberg says. Also, importantly, women often are not sure where to go for help as no one medical specialty “owns” sexual health. Sexual medicine is a multidisciplinary specialty. Depending on the issue, you may best be served by seeing a psychologist, gynecologist or pelvic floor physical therapist. The health care provider will help determine the best treatment approach for a given complaint.
Women should understand that sexual health is a basic human right and sexual concerns deserve attention. Tell your health care provider what’s on your mind, and if he or she can’t help, ask for a referral to someone who can.”
“Every woman at every age deserves to have her sexual concerns addressed,” Dr. Kingsberg says. “Ask your health care provider about a referral to a sexual medicine program that provides a multidisciplinary approach to address women’s sexual health concerns across their lifespan.”
University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center is one of very few hospital systems to have a sexual medicine program that includes a multidisciplinary team and includes psychologists in OB-GYN, Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD and Erika Kelley, PhD; nurse practitioners from gynecology, Jean Marino, and urology, Anna Myers; and gynecologists from gynecology and urology, Rachel Pope, MD, MPH and Douglas Sherlock, MD. Learn more about female sexual disorder services at University Hospitals.
Read on our physician blog: New Female Sexual Health Division Addresses Array of Needs