A U.S. study among women found that 43% report sexual problems: 39% with diminished desire, 26% having problems with arousal, and 21% experiencing difficulty achieving orgasm. The study included almost 32,000 female respondents aged 18 and older. A HealthDay news report posted on the U.S. News & World Report web site summarized the findings, with the misleading headline "Almost Half of Women Have Sexual Problems, But study found only 12% are upset about it."
In fact, 12% reported "significant personal distress" associated with the problem. While previous surveys have reported similar overall prevalence of female sexual dysfunction, few of those surveys have looked specifically at distress. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association and U. S. Food and Drug Administration's guidelines require such distress as part of the diagnostic criteria.
Dissecting the findings by age group reveals there are age differences, too. The highest prevalence of sexual dysfunction was in older women, but they experienced less associated distress. The most distress occurred at mid-life. Prevalence of both problems and associated distress were lowest in the youngest women.
It was timely that the lead article in NAFC's Quality Care newsletter at the same time the subject study was being publicized covered the very topic of female sexual dysfunction, authored by nationally recognized expert Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, chief of the division of behavioral medicine at Women's Hospital, Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
Finally, the importance of women's sexual health is receiving the gender-specific attention it deserves, and in the much needed context of quality of life.
The good news is that serious research is underway, including clinical trials of new drug options for addressing symptoms.
No doubt, what older women experience is impacted by what their partners are experiencing: life changes, health problems, and distractions from the relationship. These realms remain to be explored further by future researchers. But the fact remains that, like questions about bladder and bowel control, clinicians need to be asking their female patients about their quality of sexual intimacy and sexual relations. Likewise, women need to feel comfortable revealing and discussing the difficulties they are having with their doctors.
While we must remain guarded against "over-medicalizing" the presence of the normal up's and down's of a relationship, we also should be responsive to the quality of life needs of women in distress. And, as noted in an editorial in the November 2008 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 12% of 83 million American women "is nothing to scoff at."
Published On: February 11, 2009