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Women's Health

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Low Sexual Desire Common in Women

Relationships, Including Partner's Problems, Affect Women's Sexual Desire
WebMD Health News

Oct. 21, 2004 -- Many women -- young and old alike -- have low sexual desire, and it's affecting their relationships, new research shows.

Low sexual desire "is prevalent and distressing to many," reports lead researcher S.R. Leiblum, MD, with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.

Leiblum presented her findings at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting being held in Philadelphia this week.

They are based on surveys completed by 1,250 women between 20 and 70 years old living in countries around the world. The women answered questions about their sexual activity, their satisfaction with their relationship, their sexual desire, and personal distress they were experiencing.

Leiblum found:

  • One in four premenopausal women and one in three menopausal women have low sexual desire.
  • The women participated in sexual activity less often, initiating sexual activity, having intercourse, and experiencing orgasm and sexual pleasure far less frequently than other women.
  • They felt less sexually desirable and less satisfied with their sex life; that translated into a less-than-satisfactory relationship.
  • Younger women who were menopausal because their ovaries had been surgically removed were significantly more distressed about their low sexual desire.

Their relationships are very different from women with normal sexual desire and deserve more attention from doctors, Leiblum says.

Options for Boosting Low Sexual Desire

"Low sexual desire is certainly common, but it's not universal," says Diana L. Dell, MD, menopause specialist and professor of obstetrics/gynecology/psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. "In a certain number of women, we actually see improvement because pregnancy is no longer an issue, so they're more willing to engage in sexual activity."

Actually, before they are fully into menopause, women typically hold onto their sexual desire because testosterone-producing cells live longer than estrogen-producing cells, she explains.

Testosterone is a male sex hormone, but it is also produced in small amounts by women. Women require a small amount to maintain a healthy sex drive. Testosterone replacement therapy -- like the not-yet-FDA approved patch -- is getting lots of interest.

For many women, however, testosterone therapy may not be the answer, says Dell. "Women's sexual desire is not as simple as testosterone," she tells WebMD. "There are a whole lot of issues -- her health, her partner's health, her partner's dysfunction problems. Testosterone only addresses the hormonal part of her problem.

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