February 2020 Health Bulletin

The prevalence of sexual dysfunctions and sexually-related distress in young women: a cross-sectional survey

A study conducted by the Women’s Health Research Program at Monash University has reported, for the first time, an overall picture of the sexual wellbeing of Australian women between the ages of 18-39. The findings have been published in February in the international journal, Fertility and Sterility.

The paper reports findings from the Grollo-Ruzzene Foundation Younger Women’s Health Study, funded by Grollo Ruzzene Foundation. The study involved 6,986 women, aged 18-39 years, living in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

All women completed a questionnaire that assessed their sexual wellbeing in terms of desire, arousal, responsiveness, orgasm, and self-image. Participants also completed a questionnaire that evaluated sexually-associated personal distress and provided extensive demographic information.

Almost one-third of participants described themselves as single, 47% had a body mass index within the normal range, and nearly 70% had reported being sexually active in the 30 days preceding the study.

Results show 50.2% of young Australian women experience some form of sexually-related personal distress. This relates to the degree of feeling guilty, embarrassed, stressed or unhappy about their sex lives.

A concerning 29.6% of women were found to have sexually-related personal distress without dysfunction, and 20.6% had at least one type of sexual dysfunction (defined as a sexual difficulty accompanied by distress).

The most common dysfunction was low sexual self-image which was associated with distress for 11% of study participants. Arousal, desire, orgasm and responsiveness dysfunction affected 9%, 8%, 7.9% and 3.4% of the study cohort respectively.

Sexual self-image dysfunction was associated with being overweight, obese, living together with partner, not married, married and breastfeeding.

Taking psychotropic medication (such as antidepressants), reported by 20% of surveyed women, had the most pervasive impact on sexual function. Notably, the use of the combined oral contraceptive pill was not associated with any sexual dysfunction.

This study demonstrates sexual concerns are common amongst young women in Australia. Affected women are encouraged to speak with a health professional about their concerns.

The study also signals the importance of health professionals, particularly those working in the fields of gynaecology 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.

The prevalence of sexual dysfunctions and sexually related distress in young women: a cross-sectional survey.

Jia Zheng, Marina Skiba, Robin Bell, Rakibul Islam, Susan Davis. Fertil Steril. 2020 Feb;113(2):426-434.

Information provided might not be relevant to a particular person's circumstances and should always be discussed with that person's own healthcare provider.