Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Dec 07, 2018
Last Modified Date: Dec 07, 2018
Published Date: Aug 31, 2017
What You Should Know: Anytime the word sex comes up in a conversation, it can make some people uncomfortable and shy away from discussing this important, albeit awkward topic. But in truth, human sexuality is as much a part of our physiology as any other component of our physical and mental health.
What do we mean by sexual or reproductive health? Healthcare organizations use the term sexual health to mean “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality: not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO) reproductive (childbearing) and sexual ill health (sexually transmitted diseases, for example) accounts for about 20 percent of poor health for women and 14 percent for men worldwide.
Sexual problems are defined as any physical or emotional issue that prevents a person or a couple from engaging in sexual activity or achieving a mutually satisfying intimate, sexual relationship. Sex therapists say that what concerns people most are very specific issues – from sexual abuse to painful intercourse to what is considered a “normal” sex drive.
Highlighted Sexual Health Resources
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT SEXUAL HEALTH
What sexual problems can women experience?
Women with sexual dysfunction most often complain of low libido, or lack of desire for sex. Painful intercourse (dyspareunia) is another problem reported with about 80 percent of cases due to physiological effects, such as vaginal dryness, infection, or inflammation. One specific type of dyspareunia causes involuntary spasms of the vaginal muscles, making penetration painful or not possible. Some healthcare experts say in these cases, the root cause may be psychological trauma.
In general, negative relationship factors, stress and depression can be underlying causes but so too can physical causes, including thyroid disorders or a decline in hormone levels before, during and after menopause.
What sexual problems do men tend to experience most?
In about 75 percent of men reporting sexual problems, premature ejaculation is the most common complaint. Clinically, premature ejaculation means the release of the sperm either before actual intercourse takes place or very quickly after it starts. Most men will experience this at least once in their lifetimes but when the condition becomes chronic, there is usually an underlying cause including: a highly sensitive nervous system, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or an infection in the prostate gland known as prostatitis.
Treatments for chronic premature ejaculation might include antidepressant medication, use of a condom, or a prescription cream that helps to reduce sensation.
What is prostatitis and what are its symptoms?
A small organ located at the base of the bladder, the prostate gland is wrapped around the urethra, which empties the bladder through the penis. The back portion of the gland can be felt during a rectal examination. In general terms, prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland. There are four different types:
- Acute bacterial prostatitis – an infection caused by bacteria similar to that which causes bladder infections; can spread from the blood stream into the prostate gland with symptoms of fever, chills, nausea and a general ill feeling.
- Chronic bacterial prostatitis – an ongoing infection that may cause no symptoms.
- Chronic prostatitis without infection – a condition in which there is recurring pain without an infection present; may result in painful urination, premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction. Causes are not always clear.
- Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis – an inflamed prostate with no symptoms. What is erectile dysfunction (ED)?
Also referred to as impotence, ED means the male cannot obtain or sustain an erection sufficient for intercourse to occur. Once considered an emotional problem, healthcare providers today realize ED is often caused by other conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney dysfunction and the early onset of cardiovascular disease. Alcohol abuse, smoking and depression also play a part.
What are the benefits of sex?
Some studies show that a regular sex life can help keep you fit, similar to any aerobic exercise; make you look younger and boost your hormone levels, which helps with sex drive and fertility. In particular, sexual activity raises the level of DHEA, a little-known hormone that has several benefits, from increasing energy to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
There is even some evidence that a healthy sex life can result in living longer. People who enjoy an intimate relationship tend to be healthier overall than those who are lonely and isolated.
What are some of the most common sexual problems between men and women and the causes? For men, it’s often prostate problems, decreases in blood supply to the penis from heart disease or diabetes, nerve damage or a reduction in the male hormone testosterone that can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED).
Women complain about decreased libido, lack of sex drive, painful intercourse (dyspareunia), vaginal dryness or chronic health problems that prevent a normal sex life. Drug abuse or addictive behaviors can affect sexual function, including excessive use of alcohol, nicotine, narcotics and even some prescription drugs.
What medications can cause sex problems?
Medications for high blood pressure, allergies and certain anti-depressants can sometimes interfere with normal sex drives and performance in both men and women. Other prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can affect sexual health: i
- Birth control pills – can reduce libido due to hormone ingredients.
- Prozac and Valium – an anti-depressant and tranquilizer which can affect the sex drive of both men and women.
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Certain Parkinson’s medications and cancer drugs
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatory OTC drugs like ibuprofen
- Heartburn drugs
Can having sex give you a headache?
The answer is yes, with an actual name for this uncommon medical condition: coital cephalalgia. It tends to affect more men than women despite the fact that women get more headaches in general. There is no clear answer to cause but the possibilities include sudden changes in blood flow or a drop in blood pressure following sex; a release of adrenaline during sexual activity; or undiagnosed health problems.
What’s considered a “normal” sex drive?
Normal is a relative term and there are few statistics that clearly show long-term sexual activity among adults. But there are research studies among married couples in America that indicate the “average” married couple have sex once or twice a week, excluding times of illness, pregnancy, travel and major stressors.
It’s also normal for sex drive to diminish with age, with some studies showing up to half of long-term married couples not having sex after the age of 65. However, frequency of sex can serve as an indicator of healthy marriages.
What is “safe sex”?
Though AIDS is no longer front page news, there are still plenty of solid reasons to protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). If you are sexually active, practice safe sex by wearing condoms or using birth control, being tested for STDs and asking your partner to do the same.
STD testing is readily available online from testing specialists like Health Testing Centers and at most healthcare clinics. Keep in mind that symptoms of an STD don’t always present right away, so be alert and consider several different tests to cover a variety of possibilities.
What is the difference between HPV and HIV?
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is actually a group of viruses that can affect different parts of your body, including the skin (cold sores) and gential areas. Some of the viruses can cause cervical cancer and warts, passed through sexual contact.
Human immunnodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that can develop into AIDS. It attacks the infection-fighting cells of the immune system and over time can destroy it. The most common means of transmission is through unprotected sexual contact.
Is it safe to have sex during pregnancy?
Assuming you are healthy and the pregnancy is problem-free, health experts say there is no reason you can’t have sex during the nine months you are pregnant. Having sex does not cause miscarriages, as some think, nor does it bring on early labor. The cervix is designed to block entry to the womb so the developing fetus is not harmed by the act of intercourse.
Consult with your healthcare provider if you have special questions about safety and comfort during sex.
How does your overall health affect your sexual health?
Taking care of yourself physically and mentally – from getting plenty of rest to staying fit and watching your weight – is a big step toward achieving a satisfying level of good sexual health.
Did you know, for example, that your cholesterol levels can affect your sex life? Here’s how:
- If you’re on cholesterol lowering drugs, they can affect your libido, along with other prescription drugs.
- High cholesterol can affect both sexes. For men, it can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). For women, it can affect ability to become aroused.
- Extra weight raises your cholesterol count, can cause feelings of low self-esteem (especially when clothes come off), and can mean painful or uncomfortable sex.
- High cholesterol levels plus high blood pressure can mean higher risk of heart disease and stroke – not exactly a recipe for a healthy sex life.
Your greatest sex organ is your mind, so use it to get and stay healthy through practicing safe sex, getting tested for STDs and cholesterol levels and keeping your weight down. Eat healthy and follow an exercise routine to keep the blood flowing to all the organs -- including those body parts most private and tender. Get screened.