Third Annual Female Sexual Function Forum: New Perspectives in the Management of Female Sexual Dysfunction

Lorraine Dennerstein, AO, MBBS, PhD, DPM, FRANZCP


December 05, 2000

In This Article


Recent research suggests that a large number of US women are dissatisfied with some aspect of their sexual function. The U.S. National Health and Social Life Survey[4] of 1749 women aged 18-59 years reported a prevalence of sexual dysfunction of 43% for women. This figure was substantially higher than that found in the same survey for males (31%). A third of women lacked sexual interest, and nearly one fourth were unable to experience orgasm in the menopause. Twenty percent of women reported lubrication difficulties and 20% said they find sex not pleasurable. This high prevalence of sexual problems that can affect quality of life make these important areas of clinical concern.

Dr. John Bancroft,[5] Director of Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender and Reproduction, Indiana University, Indiana, presented preliminary results of a computer-assisted national telephone survey of 1030 heterosexual women aged 20-65. This survey reports a lower prevalence rate for female sexual problems than that suggested by Laumann and colleagues.[4] In the Kinsey Institute study, 23% of women reported a sexual problem causing at least moderate distress or worry, and 74% of the women described their current sexual relationship as good to excellent.

This study found some important ethnic differences in sexual response. Dr. Bancroft reported that African American women were more likely to rate their own sexuality as excellent, seemed more aware of their own physiologic responsiveness, and were more concerned with different aspects of partner relating than were white women. The African American women reported that "feeling comfortable talking about sex" with their partner was important to them, whereas white women were more likely to attach importance to "feeling emotionally close" to their partner.

The prevalence of sexual practices among ethnically diverse mid-aged US women was reported to the conference by Catherine Johannes[6] of the New England Research Institute in Watertown, Massachusetts. She reported cross-sectional data using a self-administered questionnaire during the baseline phase of the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation (SWAN).[7]

This epidemiologic study involved 3302 women participants aged 42-52 years from 7 US sites. The study compared women from the following ethnic groups: African American, white, Chinese, Hispanic, and Japanese. Approximately half the women were white.

Only one third of these mid-aged women reported that sex was quite or extremely important in their lives, and 78.5% of the women reported they had engaged in partnered sex in the prior 6 months. One percent of the women had never had sex, 1.4% reported they had sex with women, while the rest identified themselves as heterosexual. Over 40% of the women reported infrequent desire or enjoyment of sex. African American women were more likely and Chinese and Japanese women less likely than white women to report sex as being very important to them. Dr. Johannes reported that there were significant ethnic differences for frequency of all sexual practices (intercourse, kissing, caressing, oral sex, and masturbation). The Asian women were more likely to report infrequent desire for sex and a lower frequency for oral sex. The frequency of sexual touching was lowest among Japanese women. African Americans reported a higher frequency of sexual intercourse, while white women reported a higher frequency of masturbation than did other ethnic groups.


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