History of Infertility Not Associated With Sexual Dysfunction in Midlife Women
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a baby after a year (12 months) of trying with regular and unprotected sexual intercourse. It is a significant issue, especially for women, causing psychological stress due to expensive treatments, uncertainty, and social pressure. Infertility can also harm a woman’s self-esteem, sexual confidence, and overall well-being, thereby increasing the risk of sexual problems.
Research shows that women with infertility are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction, especially if they’ve faced it for a long time. However, it is unclear whether sexual problems continue as women age into their midlife years (40-60 years), and if so, if it is related to one’s history of infertility treatments.
To investigate the present topic, researchers reviewed the medical records of 5,912 sexually active women between the ages of 45 to 65 who had visited Mayo Clinic women’s health clinics between May 2015 to May 2022.
These women were evaluated by experts in menopause and sexual health. As part of their evaluations, they filled out the medical questionnaires, and many gave their consent to use their information for research purposes. The data from these questionnaires were stored in a registry that the researchers used to complete this study.
The completed questionnaires provided information on the individuals’ history of infertility, current sexual activity, sexual functioning (as assessed by the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) and the Female Sexual Distress Scale–Revised (FSDS-R)), depression and anxiety symptoms, and relationship satisfaction.
The 5,912 sexually active women included in this study had an average age of 54.1 years. Most were either in menopause or transitioning into it, and 15.8% had a history of infertility treatment.
Women with and without a history of infertility treatment were similar in terms of factors like body mass index (BMI), menopause status, and rates of anxiety and depression. However, women with a history of infertility treatment were slightly less likely to have given birth.
The data revealed that 54.7% of the women had sexual dysfunction, and there was no significant difference in sexual dysfunction rates between those with and without a history of infertility treatment. Various other factors, such as the women’s menopausal status and anxiety/depression symptoms, had a more significant impact on sexual dysfunction.
Discussion & Conclusion
The results of this study showed no association between a history of infertility treatment and sexual dysfunction later in life for women. As such, the authors of the study speculate that the association between infertility and sexual dysfunction in reproductive aged women may have more to do with the stress, psychological burden, and relationship issues that can stem from infertility, rather than the effect of its treatments. For example, higher rates of depression and anxiety, poor self-esteem, and lower quality of life are all common in women with infertility and can all contribute to sexual difficulties. Furthermore, these factors (i.e., higher rates of mental health issues) are associated with more relationship tension, couple dissatisfaction, and worse marital adjustment. Additionally, the high cost of infertility treatments can put even more stress on a couple, potentially leading to worse sexual health outcomes.
Experiencing infertility is a source of stress for women, and its effects can endure for an extended period. Nevertheless, while infertility may be associated with sexual dysfunction in women of childbearing age, this study found no evidence of this association persisting into middle age. Further research is necessary to better understand this topic, enabling healthcare providers to provide suitable and thorough counseling to women dealing with infertility.
- Saadedine, M., Faubion, S.S., Kling, J.M., Kuhle, C., Shufelt, C.L., Mara, K., Enders, F., & Kapoor, E. (2023). History of infertility and sexual dysfunction in midlife women: Is there a link? The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 20(9), 1188-1194. https://doi.org/10.1093/jsxmed/qdad097