Women’s sexual health: 5 issues

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 1 Apr 2022

Good sexual health is essential for a woman’s physical and emotional wellbeing. In this article, we discuss five issues that can arise in a woman’s sexual health and what can do if you experience symptoms.

1. Sexual dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction refers to having persistent, recurrent problems with sex, such as low libido, painful intercourse, trouble getting aroused and inability to achieve an orgasm. Many women encounter sexual dysfunction at some point in their lives. While this condition gets more common with age, it can affect women at any stage of their lives.

Potential causes of sexual dysfunction in women include:

  • Hormonal changes. Childbirth, surgery and menopause can cause hormonal imbalances, resulting in vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy and making sex painful. 
  • Medications and treatments. Certain medications, such as antidepressants and selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, may reduce sex drive and affect your ability to reach an orgasm. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy can also upset hormone levels and affect sexual function. 
  • Health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and multiple sclerosis, may affect your ability to enjoy sex.
  • Psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety and a lack of self-esteem, can contribute to sexual dysfunction.

If you are consistently troubled by sexual dysfunction or find that the condition is affecting your relationship, speak to your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to improve your condition.

2. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

While sex is a vital part of a healthy relationship, having sex puts you at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs can be transmitted through vaginal, oral and anal sexual contact. Symptoms may vary among STIs, but here are some common symptoms of STIs in women: 

  • Vaginal itching 
  • Unusual or foul-smelling discharge 
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding 
  • Pain or bleeding during urination 
  • Skin growths or sores around the vagina or anus

If left untreated, STIs can lead to severe consequences, such as infertility and an increased risk of cervical cancer. Note that some STIs may not display any symptoms at all, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes. Hence, it is essential to practise safe, protected sex, especially if you are seeing someone new or have multiple partners. If you are under the age of 26, consider getting the HPV vaccine to lower your risk of developing cervical cancer. Routine health screening will also help keep you and your partner safe.

3. Abnormal vaginal bleeding 

Vaginal bleeding during your monthly menstrual period is usually not a cause for concern, but here are signs of abnormal vaginal bleeding that require medical attention: 

  • Bleeding frequently in one month
  • Bleeding in between periods for several months 
  • Heavy bleeding, such as bleeding for more than eight days and having to change your pad or tampon every hour 
  • Bleeding after sex 

There are many possible causes of abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as a miscarriage, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, hormonal imbalance, thyroid issues and cancer. If you are experiencing vaginal bleeding that’s out of the norm, speak to your doctor immediately to determine the cause of the bleeding.

4. Vaginismus

Vaginismus refers to the involuntary tightening of the vagina muscles upon contact with the genital area, resulting in pain and discomfort. Possible causes of vaginismus include: 

  • Medical conditions, such as recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, endometriosis and chronic pain syndromes
  • A history of rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault 
  • Fear of penetration or getting pregnant 
  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Childbirth injuries and trauma 

Speak to your doctor to rule out underlying health conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms. Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend treatments like topical therapy, pelvic floor physical therapy and sex therapy.

5. Vaginitis

Vaginitis is an inflammation or infection of the vagina that results in itching, discharge and pain. Common causes of vaginitis include bacterial and yeast infections and irritation from chemicals in creams or sprays. In some cases, vaginitis can result from sexual contact, vaginal dryness and hormonal imbalance.

Symptoms of vaginitis include: 

  • Vaginal itching 
  • Pain during intercourse and urination 
  • Abnormal discharge, such as a change in colour, odour or amount 
  • Vaginal bleeding

See a doctor immediately if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms. Switch to cotton underwear to keep your vaginal area cool and dry and avoid harsh soaps and vaginal douching.

Please don’t suffer in silence. Our doctors regularly see patients with sexual concerns. Speak to our dedicated doctors at Osler Health today about your sexual health needs and concerns and get some help.

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