WRITTEN BY: Dr. Lisa Larkin
Women’s sexual health is an area of patient care that has been neglected for far too long. As a women’s health internist for over 30 years, that’s something that, unfortunately, I know far too well. I also know that women’s sexual health is not just a “lifestyle” issue; it’s intertwined with our overall health.
Sexual health problems in women are quite common. In a survey of over 31,000 women, about 40% had experienced a sexual problem.1 When a woman’s sexual problem is severe enough to cause her distress, it may be considered a sexual dysfunction. The most common female sexual dysfunction is hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which is defined as ongoing low sexual desire that women find frustrating. In the US, HSDD affects approximately 1 out of every 10 women.2
HSDD can have a profound impact on a woman’s well-being. It can affect a woman’s self-esteem and body image, and make her feel inadequate, insecure or hopeless. Despite this, surveys show that many US doctors don’t ask their female patients about sexual health concerns on a regular basis.3 And too often, women don’t raise the subject themselves, expecting that their healthcare provider will ask.
So, if there’s something that I wish that my patients—and all women—knew, it’s that they have a right to sexual healthcare. And that if they’re going to get it, we’re going to have to change that narrative.
…women’s sexual health is not just a ‘lifestyle’ issue; it’s intertwined with our overall health.”
Be your own advocate
I believe that women must be educated about sexual health, know that their sexual health concerns are legitimate, and advocate for their sexual healthcare.
It’s clear that there are gender discrepancies in sexual healthcare. For example, until just a few years ago, there were numerous medications for men with erectile dysfunction,4 but zero specifically approved for women with frustrating low sexual desire. While doctors apparently have become comfortable using the term “erectile dysfunction” and prescribing treatment for it, too many still aren’t comfortable talking about sexual health issues with their female patients.
Women’s gender-specific health needs are neglected for many reasons. These may include too little sexual health training in medical school and residency, cultural bias that leads to dismissing women’s health issues and symptoms, lack of inclusion of women in clinical trials, and low awareness of the gender differences in disease presentation and gender specific drug effects.
What I think this means for women is this: don’t wait for your doctor to ask if you’re having a problem with low sexual desire or any other aspect of your sexual health. Bring the subject up and make it clear that you want to explore solutions. Also, take advantage of educational and support resources, such as those here on unblush.
… I wish that my patients—and all women—knew that they have a right to sexual healthcare.”
A new era for women’s sexual health
In spite of the challenges, I see a cultural shift occurring in women’s sexual healthcare.
There’s a growing “femtech” (female technology) movement resulting in more research and development in women’s health. Women’s health startup companies are receiving more venture capital funding than ever before.5 And as of June 2019, we now have two FDA-approved medications for HSDD.
The bottom line: as with #MeToo and #TimesUp on other fronts, it’s time to speak up for gender equity in healthcare. As a woman, you should demand high-quality gender-specific care. When it comes to your sexual health, you must advocate for yourself. There are clinicians out there who are trained in sexual medicine. And the good news is now there are FDA-approved medications to help. Be heard and get the care you need and deserve.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. You should not use the information here for diagnosing a condition. For medical advice, please consult your healthcare professional.
- Shifren JL, Monz BU, Russo PA, Segreti A, Johannes CB. Sexual problems and distress in United States women: prevalence and correlates. Obstet Gynecol. 2008;112(5):970-978.
- Kingsberg, Sheryl A. et al. “Female Sexual Health: Barriers to Optimal Outcomes and a Roadmap for Improved Patient–Clinician Communications.” Journal of women’s health(2019).
- “Medications for Erectile Dysfunction.” Drugs.com, Accessed September 6, 2019, https://www.drugs.com/condition/erectile-dysfunction.html
- Olsen, D., 2018, This year is setting records for femtech funding,PitchBook, Accessed September 11, 2019,