Women's Sexual Health

Sex is an important part of life. For some women, thinking about sex starts early, often before puberty, and lasts until their final days on earth.

On one level, sex is just another hormone-driven bodily function designed to perpetuate the species. On another, it's a pleasurable activity. It's also a connection that can help cement the bonds between two people. 

Sexual health refers to a state of well-being that lets a woman fully participate in and enjoy sexual activity. A range of physical, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors influence a woman's sexual health.

Sex requires amazing connections between the sex organs, hormone-producing glands, the brain, and the rest of the body. If one part is out of whack, the desire for sex may fade, or the ability to have sex may be compromised. In addition to the physical and biochemical forces at work, a woman's experiences, expectations, mental health, and emotional health shape her sexuality.

For many women, contraception is an important part of sexual health. Another is avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. These include gonorrhea, syphilis, genital herpes, chlamydia, human papillomavirus, and HIV/AIDS. Using a condom is a key way to protect against getting a sexually transmitted infection.

Women's Sexual Health Articles

Should you have an annual pelvic exam?

Expert groups disagree over the value of an annual pelvic exam for healthy women without symptoms of pelvic diseases. Women should discuss the potential risks and benefits as well as their personal preferences with their doctors. (Locked) More »

Nonhormonal treatments for menopause

Menopause—medically defined as the absence of a menstrual period for a year—is due to a decline in estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries. About 60% to 80% of women experience menopause symptoms, most commonly hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Studies indicate that menopause symptoms can last a decade or longer, affecting substantial numbers of women in their 60s. Although randomized clinical trials indicate that hormone therapy can be safe and effective way to control most menopause symptoms, it's not considered a first-line approach. Dr. JoAnn Manson, Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women's Health at Harvard Medical School, suggests trying lifestyle modifications for at least three months after symptoms begin before trying hormone therapy. The following have been found effective in reducing the discomfort from hot flashes—both those that interrupt daily life and those that disturb sleep: More »

Screening tests you probably don’t need

Expert groups don’t advise some widely offered tests for screening generally healthy people because they may lead to unnecessary procedures. Women are advised to develop a personal screening schedule with their doctors. More »

What is vaginal steaming?

There is no scientific evidence to support vaginal steaming, in which a woman sits over a bowl of steaming herb-infused water. (Locked) More »

Thinking about sex after a heart attack

After a heart attack, most people want to get back to their everyday life as quickly as possible. While driving, exercising, and returning to work are routinely discussed in the doctor’s office, the struggle many heart attack survivors encounter when trying to resume their sex lives is rarely mentioned. However, the people who do have this conversation are more often able to return to sexual activity than those who don’t. (Locked) More »

Redefining a healthy sex life

Older men continue to enjoy active sex lives, according to surveys. Embracing how his body and mind have changed can help a man focus more on romance, intimacy, and closeness, which can make sex more enjoyable for him and his partner. (Locked) More »