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Bladder Problems Often Mean Less Sex in Women

Fear of Leakage, Pain Interfere With Sexual Pleasure

WebMD Health News

May 11, 2004 (San Francisco) -- Women with certain bladder problems often experience trouble sexually, a new study shows.

"Women with overactive bladder can have leakage during intercourse," says Kristene Whitmore, MD, chief of urology at Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia.

"These initial findings show that women with overactive bladder have an increased risk of different types of sexual dissatisfaction," says Whitmore, who was not involved in the study. "When such women seek treatment, they need to talk directly about whether their sex lives are affected."

An overactive bladder, or urge incontinence, is a common urinary problem among women, although it is also seen in men. The most common symptom is increased urination -- need to urinate more than eight times daily. Urine leakage can occur almost as soon as the person becomes aware of the need to urinate.

"Women with overactive bladder need to talk openly about their sex lives, because their physicians may not bring it up themselves," principal investigator Ankur Patel tells WebMD.

"Older women in particular may find it difficult to bring up, but it's important to do so." Patel is a research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh.

The researchers presented their findings in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.

Urinary Incontinence Interferes With Sex

The study involved 78 women who had been diagnosed with overactive bladder. The majority of the women in the study were married, and the average age was 50.

The women completed two written questionnaires. One questionnaire evaluated various urinary problems, such as leakage, difficulty emptying the bladder, and pain in the lower abdomen. The other questionnaire measured sexual activity. They were asked about sexual frequency, arousal, frequency of orgasm, pain during intercourse, feelings towards one's partner, and the partner's ability to perform.

Three-quarters of the women experienced the need to urinate often.

Among the women, 65% had an overactive bladder and 76% had stress incontinence -- leakage caused by physical stress such as coughing or laughing.

The researchers found women with an overactive bladder or frequent urination usually had less sex.

"The findings show that women who experienced urinary frequency, urge incontinence, or both, were less sexually active," Patel says. "Women who were bothered significantly by urge incontinence were less likely to enjoy sexual activity. Women who expressed a greater degree of distress related to abdominal or genital pain were less likely to enjoy sexual activity but were more likely to experience sexual thoughts or fantasies."

Overactive bladder can be treated with medication. Therefore, as a result of their findings, the investigators "will be starting a clinical trial of women with overactive bladder and sexual dysfunction, to see if treatment for their urinary condition improves sexual function," says Patel.

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