Close to half of US women report some form of sexual difficulty, but far fewer are distressed about their problem, a new study suggests.
In a survey of more than 31 000 US women, researchers found that 44% said they had some problem with their sexual function, including low desire and difficulty having an orgasm.
However, only 12% of women overall said they had a sexual problem that caused them worry, frustration or embarrassment.
Past studies of women's sexual dysfunction have not generally distinguished between sexual problems overall and those that cause women distress. The current findings suggest that worrisome sexual problems are much less common than those earlier studies have implied, researchers report in the journal Obstetrics & Gynaecology.
Regardless, the percentage of women with distressing sexual dysfunction "is not trivial," write the researchers, led by Dr Jan L. Shifren of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
This is particularly true of middle-aged women, they note.
The researchers found that distressing sexual problems were most common among women between the ages of 45 and 64, at 15%, while less than 11% of younger women and 9% of women age 65 and older reported such distress.
This was despite the fact that the oldest group actually had by far the highest rate of sexual dysfunction, with 80% saying they had some problem with desire, arousal or orgasm.
It's not clear why more older women were not distressed by these problems, according to Shifren's team. One possibility, they speculate, is that other health problems outweigh the importance of sexual dysfunction for many older women.
The bottom line, Shifren told Reuters Health, is that sexual problems are very common among women, and "it's pretty normal" for them to have some difficulties with desire, arousal or orgasm at some point in their lives.
"The really important thing," she said, "is that women who have sexual problems associated with distress are the ones who should really be speaking with their health provider and seeking treatment."
The researchers also encourage doctors to ask women not only about their sexual function, but also about any distress those problems are causing.
The study findings illustrate the "importance of assessing the prevalence of sexually related personal distress in accurately estimating the prevalence of sexual problems that may require clinical intervention," the investigators conclude. - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Obstetrics & Gynecology, November 2008.
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