Why is women's sexual health still overlooked?

Article published at: Agora London Feb 11, 2024
Why is women's sexual health still overlooked?
All Hormone Health

Sexual health is a critical component of your overall well-being, encompassing emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and social dimensions related to sexuality. This entails adopting behavioural approaches to sexuality and sexual relationships, taking into account a range of ethical and moral considerations in decision-making.

Female sexual well-being is an important part of wellness that is often overlooked. Research indicates that approximately 40% of women may encounter various types of sexual challenges throughout their lives. These challenges may stem from diverse factors, including physical, cultural, emotional, and psychological aspects. Despite its complexity, discussions about female sexual health are frequently omitted from medical appointments, leaving female patients feeling isolated. It's a common concern for many women, yet they may hesitate to open up about this aspect of their well-being with their healthcare providers. Exacerbating the matter, healthcare professionals may not comprehensively address all aspects of female sexuality. 

A survey conducted among physicians from various specialties revealed diverse reasons for their reluctance to inquire about the sexual lives of their female patients. The study identified limited time as the main barrier to discuss sexual health, followed  by embarrassment (for both doctor and patient), inability to offer viable treatment options, insufficient training in female sexual function, and a reliance on patients to initiate the conversation . Clearly bridging this communication gap is essential for fostering a holistic approach to women's health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in connection with sexuality. Hence, optimal sexual health becomes a crucial element of overall health and well-being. This is facilitated by convenient access to high-quality information and sexual health services, as highlighted in the House of Commons Report 2019.

Some case studies emphasise the impact of lifestyle approaches in addressing the complexities of female sexual well-being. Implementing lifestyle measures such as dietary changes, exercise, mindfulness, and yoga has proven beneficial in enhancing sexual satisfaction. It's important to recognise that sexual health is intricately linked to both physical and mental well-being.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is crucial for addressing sexual issues. For instance, exercise has proven to be an effective strategy in enhancing sexual function. Additionally, various aspects of one's lifestyle, such as nutrition, can impact female sexual function. A study revealed that women who followed the Mediterranean diet had the lowest occurrence of sexual dysfunction. Studies have investigated the link between smoking and sexual function, revealing that smoking independently raises the risk of female sexual dysfunction, potentially by negatively affecting sexual arousal responses. The impact of alcohol on sexual function is another vital consideration, with studies suggesting that alcohol can diminish physiological sexual arousal. Finally when assessing an individual's sexual well-being, it is essential to also take into account their emotional health.

While sexual functioning is a key factor, it is evidently not the only contributor to women's sexual satisfaction. Important connections have been noted between women's sexual satisfaction and various aspects of quality of life, such as age, physical health, overall well-being, and happiness. Unsurprisingly, chronic stress has been demonstrated to negatively impact sexual well-being. In women, heightened levels of chronic daily stressors were associated with increased sexual problems and decreased sexual satisfaction. Ongoing research is delving into the mechanisms underlying this connection, considering both psychological and physiological components that could play a role in the relationship between stress and sexual function.

In conclusion, it is evident that sexual well-being is not merely a physical aspect but a multifaceted tapestry woven with emotional, mental, and social threads. For this reason it is imperative to recognise the influence of lifestyle choices and the impact of both physiological and psychological aspects.

Ultimately, this journey invites a paradigm shift in our understanding of female sexual health, moving away from silence and taboos towards open and informed discussions. 

Sources : 

Giugliano F, Maiorino MI, Di Palo C. : Mediterranean diet and sexual health  

Lorenz TA, Meston CM.: Exercise improves sexual function in women

Harte C, Meston C. :The inhibitory effects of nicotine on physiological sexual arousal