What Are Some Important Sexual Health Issues for Women?
International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th each year with the intent of bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women.
Historically, women’s sexual health may not have received the attention it deserves. As such, the following article is aimed at educating women and men about common sexual health issues that can affect women.
Pain during sexual activity can be the result of several different medical conditions including:
- Endometriosis: a condition in which the type of tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow outside of the uterus causing heavy periods, pelvic pain, and painful intercourse.
- Genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder (GPPPD): a disorder in which the pelvic floor muscles are overly tight or contract involuntarily during sex, making penetration painful.
- Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM): a condition that can cause painful sex for postmenopausal women when the body’s estrogen levels decrease, which can result in vulvovaginal atrophy, vaginal dryness, and anatomical changes to the vagina and genitourinary tract.
- Vulvodynia: pain or discomfort in the vulva for which there is no readily identifiable cause that can lead to painful sex as well as the disruption of day-to-day activities.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Both women and men should be aware of STIs such as HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and HPV among others, and should take steps to reduce the spread of these infections during sexual activity. However, it is important to know that women in particular may experience severe health problems from untreated STIs such as chronic pelvic pain, difficulties getting pregnant, the risk of ectopic pregnancy, and certain types of cancer such as cervical cancer. Talk to your health care provider about STI screening, how often to get a Pap smear, and safe sex measures that can offer some protection from STI transmission.
Low Sexual Desire
Although a woman’s sex drive can and will fluctuate over the years, it is possible for one to experience such low sexual desire that it is distressing to the woman and/or her partner. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is a condition in which women lose interest in sex and find it distressing. Fortunately, there are treatment options for HSDD including changes in lifestyle or medications, sex therapy, or hormonal therapies. Consult with your health care provider if you are experiencing a consistently low libido that you find bothersome.
Female Orgasmic Disorder
Female orgasmic disorder is an ongoing delay in or absence of orgasm during sexual activity despite having sufficient sexual stimulation. The term is also used to describe a marked decline in orgasm intensity. This situation can be distressing for women and their partners, and it is possibly exacerbated by the fact that there is a documented disparity in the frequency of orgasms between heterosexual men and heterosexual women during partnered sexual activity, with men consistently achieving more orgasms. Many sexual medicine researchers and activists are committed to closing the “orgasm gap” between men and women.
- Alizadeh, A., Farnam, F., Raisi, F., & Parsaeian, M. (2019). Prevalence of and risk factors for genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder: a population-based study of Iranian women. The journal of sexual medicine, 16(7), 1068-1077. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.04.019
- Angelou, K., Grigoriadis, T., Diakosavvas, M., Zacharakis, D., & Athanasiou, S. (2020). The Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause: An Overview of the Recent Data. Cureus, 12(4), e7586. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.7586
- Goldstein, I., Kim, N.N., Clayton, A.H., DeRogatis, L.R., Giraldi, A., Parish, S.J., Pfaus, J., Simon, J.A., Kingsberg, S.A., Meston, C., Stahl, S.M., Wallen, K., & Worsley, R. (2017, January). Hypoactive sexual desire disorder: International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH) expert consensus panel review. In Mayo clinic proceedings(Vol. 92, No. 1, pp. 114-128). Elsevier. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.09.018
- Marchand, E. (2021). Psychological and behavioral treatment of female orgasmic disorder. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 9(2), 194-211. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sxmr.2020.07.007
- Mayo Clinic. (2018, July 24). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometriosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354656
- Mayo Clinic. (2022, September 13). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vulvodynia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353423