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

Don't ignore vaginal dryness and pain

Vaginal dryness, irritation, and pain during intercourse affect 50% of women after menopause and are caused by declining estrogen levels in the body. A study showed that vaginal estrogen and moisturizers are equally effective in reducing symptoms in some women. But existing treatments often fall short of providing full relief. (Locked) More »

Can supplements save your sex life?

Most dietary supplements for sexual function haven’t been studied scientifically and may be a waste of money or dangerous for health. The supplements often contain hidden pharmaceutical drugs—like traces of PDE5 inhibitors, medications in the same class that includes prescription erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, and smoking cessation can help boost sexual function without medication. If not, there are medical approaches that can help. More »

Is this normal?

Different women experience different types of vaginal discharge. There is a wide range of “normal.” However, some symptoms like postmenopausal bleeding do warrant a closer look from the doctor. (Locked) More »

Will removing your fallopian tubes reduce your risk of ovarian cancer?

 Image: © magicmine/Getty Images Ovarian cancer is a challenging foe. It's often found at an advanced stage when it's difficult to treat. In recent years, researchers have learned that many cases of ovarian cancer don't even start in the ovaries. "It turns out that ovarian cancer is a bit of a misnomer. We think a portion of ovarian cancers actually arise from cells in the fallopian tubes," says Shelley Tworoger, adjunct associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and associate center director of population science at the Moffitt Cancer Center. (Locked) More »

Study finds weak link between birth control and breast cancer

 Image: © designer491/Getty Images Hormonal birth control — whether it comes as pills, injections, a ring, an intrauterine device (IUD), or an implant — may raise your risk of breast cancer, according to a study published Dec. 7, 2017, in The New England Journal of Medicine. If you're like many women who currently use one of these contraceptive methods, or if you used one for years in the past, should you be worried? (Locked) More »

Sexually transmitted disease? At my age?

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in people of all ages. There were more than two million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in 2016, with significant increases in cases among middle-aged and older adults. For example, among people ages 55 to 64, reports of chlamydia cases nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016, from 4,950 to 9,321. The most common types of STDs include genital herpes, human papillomavirus, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and human immunodeficiency virus. (Locked) More »

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 »

When an SSRI medication impacts your sex life

The popular medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (see box) can help lift people out from under a dark cloud of depression. But there are some side effects from antidepressants, including those that can affect your sex life. In addition to reducing interest in sex, SSRI medications can make it difficult to become aroused, sustain arousal, and reach orgasm. Some people taking SSRIs aren't able to have an orgasm at all. These symptoms tend to become more common with age. If you experience any sexual problems while taking an SSRI medication, talk with your doctor or therapist. About 35% to 50% of people with untreated major depression experience some type of sexual dysfunction prior to treatment. So, in some cases, sexual difficulties may stem not from the SSRI, but rather from the underlying depression. If medication is the problem, sexual side effects sometimes subside with time, so it's worth waiting a while to see if problems diminish. This is a particularly good strategy if the medication is easing your depression significantly. But if side effects from antidepressants persist, your doctor or therapist may suggest one of the following strategies, as found in the Harvard Special Health Report Understanding Depression: More »