Women with genital pain often have sexual problems and emotional distress. But they might not be aware that pain and sexual functioning can be related, according to a recent study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
“A high percentage of sexual problems and related emotional suffering is overlooked,” the authors explained.
The study included 967 Italian women between the ages of 18 and 40. Their average age was 27 years. While 90% were unmarried, about 70% were in romantic relationships. In general, the women had sex regularly.
Through questionnaires, the women provided information on their overall health, sexual distress, positive and negative emotions, experiences with pain, psychopathological symptoms, and quality of life. Sexual function was assessed with the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), which addresses the domains of desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain.
About 30% of the women said they had had at least one sexual problem during the previous six months. Issues with desire, orgasm, and pain were the most common, but the problems were often “secondary and situational.” About half consulted a doctor for their complaints.
A third of the women reported genital pain. For most, the pain had been an issue for less than a year, but some women said they had had pain for over 10 years. About 45% of the women with genital pain said they had a related sexual problem. But many did not link genital pain with sexual problems at all.
Women with genital pain had poorer sexual function, more sexual distress, more negative emotions about sex, and lower scores on quality of life assessments than women without genital pain. They were also more likely to have psychopathological symptoms.
FSFI scores revealed that almost half of the women with genital pain met the diagnostic criteria for sexual dysfunction. These women reported more pain than women with normal function. After the researchers controlled for pain, they found that the women with sexual dysfunction were more distressed and had more negative emotions about sex. Their quality of life was lower, too.
The researchers analyzed the duration of pain as well. Women who had had genital pain for six months or longer had lower FSFI scores (indicating poorer function) than women whose sexual pain had lasted less than six months.
The findings “deepen the understanding of the relationship between pain, sexual functioning, sexual distress, emotions, psychological health, and [quality of life],” the authors wrote.
They did note some limitations. For example, the study participants consisted mainly of young Italian women, and results may not be generalized to other populations. Also, information was self-reported, and no physical examinations were conducted.
The authors recommended that healthcare providers routinely ask women about their sexual function, as patients may be reluctant to bring up the subject themselves.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Nimbi, Filippo Maria, PhD, PsyD, et al.
“Genital Pain and Sexual Functioning: Effects on Sexual Experience, Psychological Health, and Quality of Life”
(Full-text. Published online: February 13, 2020)