Sexual Health Q&A

Can a woman’s lipid profile affect her sexual health?

Yes. Research has shown that dyslipidemia – an abnormal lipid profile – can interfere with a woman’s sexual function.

Lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, are fats that provide fuel for the body. They are also important for cell structure. Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream via lipoproteins.

When doctors conduct a lipid profile, they usually look at three substances in a blood sample:

• High-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL is sometimes called “good” cholesterol because these lipoproteins carry cholesterol to the liver, which processes it and removes it from the body.

• Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). In contrast to HDL, LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol. That’s because high levels of LDL can cause fatty deposits called plaques to build up on the artery walls. This condition is called atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries. It can happen anywhere in the body.

• Triglycerides. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides can increase a person’s risk for heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

In 2016, The Journal of Sexual Medicine published a study on the subject by a team of Italian researchers. They measured levels of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in 466 women between the ages of 42 and 58. The women also completed questionnaires to assess their sexual function and any related distress.

Two hundred forty-eight of the women had dyslipidemia. The rest had normal lipid profiles.

When comparing the two groups, the researchers discovered that women with dyslipidemia were more likely to have problems with arousal, lubrication, orgasm, pain, and sexual satisfaction. They also tended to be more distressed about their sex lives.

Atherosclerosis is the main link between dyslipidemia and female sexual problems.

When a woman becomes sexually excited, the blood vessels in her genitals expand to allow more blood to flow into the area, preparing her body for sex. Blood in the vaginal walls helps with lubrication. Her clitoris and labia also become engorged with blood. 

When blood flow is compromised, these processes don’t happen as readily.  As a result, a woman’s vagina might not be sufficiently lubricated, which can make intercourse uncomfortable. 

Women who are concerned about sexual issues should talk to their doctor. While dyslipidemia can be one factor, there may be other possibilities to consider, including menopause, diabetes, or relationship problems.

However, making some simple lifestyle changes can make improve one’s lipid profile. Following a diet that is high in fiber and low in saturated fat is one step. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise, and quit smoking.