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

Understanding Menopause

Risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause, when levels of estrogen — which helps preserve bone density — drop. Until recently, most doctors recommended long-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat postmenopausal women who need medication to prevent bone loss. But things changed after results from a large trial on a common HRT drug showed that estrogen plus progestin (as the medication Prempro) did more harm than good. An increased risk for breast cancer and cardiovascular events outweighed the benefits of less colorectal cancer and fewer fractures. (See the Update from July 2002 for more information on the trial.) Health experts now encourage most women who have been taking long-term HRT for osteoporosis prevention to consider an alternative. Fortunately there are several options. Each of the FDA-approved treatments (see chart) has potential benefits and risks that women and their doctors should weigh before making a decision. Even with HRT's proven risks, it may still be a good choice for certain women — especially in lower doses, which recent data have shown to have bone benefits comparable to higher, standard doses. Medication More »