MELBOURNE, Australia — Depictions of sex and sexuality in the media are largely idealized and unrealistic. Real life between the sheets, on the other hand, is usually more complicated. Everyone is different, and what works for one person may not for another. Women especially are portrayed as symbols of sexuality across our culture, and according to a recent piece of research, the pressure to live up to those stereotypes is causing serious stress in many young women.
Researchers at Monash University surveyed nearly 7,000 Australian women between the ages of 18-39, and found that just over half (50.2%) routinely experience sexually-related personal distress. Another one in five report having at least one female sexual dysfunction (FSD). A few common examples of a female sexual dysfunction would be feeling pain during intercourse, or an overall lack of sexual arousal.
Sexually-related distress can be defined as feeling embarrassed, stressed, guilty, or unhappy with one’s sex life and sexual performance. Among the 50.2% with constant distress, 29.6% did not report a sexual dysfunction, while 20.6 reported at least one FSD.
The most frequently cited FSD was an overall poor sexual self-image, causing distress in 11% of participants. One’s sexual self-image can be related to obesity, feeling self-conscious about living with a new partner, or breastfeeding, just to name a few topics. Dysfunction related to arousal (9%), orgasms (7.9%), desire (8%), and responsiveness (3.4%) were other common answers.
Prescription medication may have a hand in many sexual feelings of anxiety; 20% of surveyed women reported taking a psychotropic drug, such as an antidepressant, and these substances often have a negative influence on one’s overall sexual life. However, the use of oral contraceptives was not found to have any effect on sexual functioning.
“Sexual wellbeing is recognized as a fundamental human right. It is of great concern that one in five young women have an apparent sexual dysfunction and half of all women within this age group experience sexually-related personal distress,” says senior author and Professor of Women’s Health at Monash University, Susan Davis, in a release. “This is a wake-up call to the community and signals the importance of health professionals being open and adequately prepared to discuss young women’s sexual health concerns.”
In total, 6,986 women took part in the research, all hailing from various areas across Australia. Each woman filled out a questionnaire that asked about sexual desire, arousal, self-image, and orgasms. Participants were also asked about any sexually-associated personal distress. Questions on demographics were included as well.
Roughly one third of respondents described themselves as single, 47% had a normal BMI, and just under 70% reported being sexually active within one month of taking the survey.
A particularly interesting finding was that women who reported “habitually” monitoring their appearance, and admitted to largely basing their own self-worth on their appearance, were almost always less sexually assertive and more self-conscious during sexual or intimate acts with a partner. Overall, these women also reported less sexual pleasure.
“The high prevalence of sexually-related personal distress signals the importance of health professionals, particularly those working in the fields of gynecology and fertility, being adequately prepared to routinely ask young women about any sexual health concerns, and to have an appropriate management or referral pathway in place,” Professor Davis concludes.
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