10 tips on understanding female sexual health problems
Just as for men, women's sexual health plays an important role in overall emotional and physical wellbeing. A fulfilling sex life can boost a woman’s general health, improve sleep quality and reduce stress. Achieving a healthy and satisfying sex life doesn't happen automatically though; it takes good self-reflection and communication with your partner.
Women’s sexual health is influenced by a wide range of emotional, psychological and physical factors. As a consequence, when sexual problems arise, it is more difficult to separate the underlying causes for women than for men. Sexual health experts agree that women and men differ widely in their sexual response, and the advice given to men will not necessarily apply to women. However, there are still areas of common interest, such as taking good care of your general health and eating well.
According to the Mayo Clinic, many women – particularly those who are older than 40 or who have gone through menopause – physical desire isn't the primary motivation for sex. A woman may be motivated to have sex to feel close to her partner or show her feelings.
What it means to be sexually satisfied also differs for everyone. For example, some women say the pleasure of sexual arousal is sufficient, while others want to experience orgasm. If you have concerns about your sex life, or you just want to find ways to enhance it, a good first step is talking with your partner. Sharing your thoughts and expectations about your sexual experiences can bring you closer together and help you experience greater sexual enjoyment as a couple.1
Women’s sexual health problems are more easily resolved if both partners approach them prepared to make changes in the way they relate to each other sexually. Many therapists believe a woman’s sexual dysfunction is best treated as a couple, not just by the woman alone.
Both men’s and women’s sex lives will benefit from more open communication with their partner, centering on a positive and constructive dialogue which focuses on what is working well.
10 tips on understanding women’s sexual health
- Women’s motivators are different
Women are motivated to have sex for a variety of reasons, not just because they feel sexual desire. This may include a desire to express love, to receive and share physical pleasure, to feel emotionally closer, to please her partner or to increase her sense of wellbeing.
Unlike men, women don’t spend much time thinking about sex and are not generally motivated by sexual fantasies. While women in new relationships are more frequently motivated by sexual thoughts, women in established relationships think about sex infrequently, or rarely.
- Desire and arousal are different for women
The physical biology of desire and arousal works differently for women compared with men. While for men it may be a rising barometer of sexual excitement – from desire to arousal, erection and climax – a woman’s pattern is far less linear. This is one reason why some argue that men’s sexual models cannot be used to diagnose female sexual dysfunction.
For women, sexual desire does not necessarily precede sexual arousal. Arousal can often occur before desire, or arousal and desire occur simultaneously. And a woman can be aroused sexually without being aware of it or noticing any physical change.
- ‘Use it or lose it’ applies to women too
The principle of ‘use it or lose it’ applies to women as equally as men. For example, women who are sexually active after menopause have better vaginal lubrication and elasticity of vaginal organs than women who are sexually inactive.
According to sex expert Professor Barry McCarthy, author of Rekindling Desire: “Contrary to the myth that ‘horniness’ occurs after not being sexual for weeks, desire is facilitated by a regular rhythm of sexual activity. When sex is less than twice a month, you can become self-conscious and fall into a cycle of anticipatory anxiety, tense and unsatisfying sex and avoidance.”
- ‘Outercourse’ can satisfy
For women – and even for some men – intercourse is not essential for satisfactory sex. Many couples who try increasing sex play may discover they can satisfy their sensual and sexual desires with fondling, caressing and kissing. This form of intimacy has been dubbed ‘outercourse’.
- Sexual response varies throughout life
A woman’s sexual response varies naturally at different times and at different life stages. It is influenced by a host of factors, including physical changes – such as during menopause or pregnancy – as well as the quality of the relationship with her partner.
- It’s only a problem if a woman thinks it is
Women do not necessarily feel distressed when they lose interest in sex unless this is causing distress in her relationship and putting it in danger. At this point, she will need to decide how important the relationship is to her and how much adjustment she is prepared to make to secure it.
- Low desire is common for women
Low desire is the most common sexual ‘problem’ that women experience; so common that Australian sex therapist Dr Rosie King suggests it’s a ‘normal’ female condition. A desire mismatch can drain intimacy and positive feelings from a relationship and can affect one in three couples.
- Bad sex can destroy a relationship
‘Guilt sex’ – sex agreed to under emotional pressure from the partner with the higher sex drive – can be very damaging to a relationship. On the contrary, healthy sex can play a positive role in any marriage or long-term relationship. According to Barry McCarthy, a ‘non-sexual’ marriage – defined as having sex less than 10 times a year – has a profound effect on a couple’s quality of life. However, ‘bad’ sex is more likely to ruin a relationship (up to 70 percent more) than good sex is to improve it (15 percent).
- Arousal slows with age
With age, both women and men may need more time to become sexually aroused. Research shows men’s and women’s sexual needs tend to converge after the age of 50. Research also shows that older couples tend to spend longer making love than younger ones, simply because they need more foreplay. They’ve learned how to adjust to their physical changes and ‘go with the flow’, without feeling anxiety or pressure.
- Realistic expectations are important
If you expect ‘orgasmic peaks’ each time you have sex you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Sex therapists estimate:
- 35 to 45 percent of experiences are very good for both partners.
- 20 percent are very good for one (usually the man) and okay for the other.
- 15 to 20 percent are okay for one and the other finds it acceptable.
- And 5 to 15 percent of sexual experiences are dissatisfying or dysfunctional, even between couples who share affection and understanding.
Says Barry McCarthy: “Couples who accept occasional mediocre or dysfunctional experiences without guilt or blame and try again when they are aware and receptive have a vital, resilient sexual relationship. Satisfied couples use the guideline of ‘good enough’ sex with positive, realistic sexual expectations.”
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Maintaining good vaginal health
Maintaining good vaginal health is important for a woman’s general confidence, sexual satisfaction and physical health. Just like the intestinal tract, a healthy vagina carries a variety of beneficial bacteria to protect against infection and maintain a healthy PH level.
When beneficial bacteria are disrupted – for example, by the use of antibiotics which can kill internal flora, or when immunity is low – yeast infections like candida (thrush) flourish, causing itchiness and discharge.
Modern lifestyles have created an ideal environment for thrush infections, due to the following, which can all contribute to an increase in vaginal infections:
- A rise in refined foods and sugar in the diet.
- The popularity of synthetic underwear.
- The increased use of prescription antibiotics.
In her book Candida, A Twentieth Century Disease, Dr Shirley S. Lorenzani says before antibiotics were introduced in 1947, “only one out of four vaginal infections was due to candida. Today candida is the cause of nine out of 10 infections.”
8 tips for maintaining good vaginal health
- Maintain a healthy PH balance
Itchiness and discharge can result when the PH balance in the vagina is disturbed. To help prevent this, don’t use harsh soaps or cleansers, and avoid douching. If you notice a strong or unpleasant odour you may be tempted to use these to mask it; this will only upset the mildly acidic levels that are a sign of good vaginal health. Instead, consult a health practitioner to identify the cause of the symptoms and take sensible lifestyle steps yourself, for example by cutting down on refined sugars.
- Eat a healthy diet
If your vaginal health is out of balance, start by taking a good look at what you are eating and drinking. Make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids and preferably not a lot of coffee or alcohol. Nutritionist John Appleton says one cup of coffee can kill off 75 percent of beneficial bacterial in the gut, which can impact on the health of the genital tract too.
Some foods are recognised as being helpful for vaginal infections, including cranberry juice and yoghurt. Vaginal dryness can lead to infections as well, so try and eat more soy, which is full of phytoestrogens and which can aid natural lubrication. Include plenty of green vegetables and fruit in your diet. And remember that factory-farmed meats may contain traces of antibiotics.
- Practice safe sex
Using condoms during sex helps protect against HIV, genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, genital warts and chlamydia. Some of these diseases, like HIV and genital herpes, have no cure. Others, like the human papillomavirus that causes genital warts, are known to cause cancer or lead to other diseases. You also should change condoms when switching from oral or anal to vaginal sex, to prevent the introduction of harmful bacteria into the vagina.
- Have regular health checks
Good vaginal health depends upon having regular health checks. Have Pap smears at the recommended frequency for your age group – usually every couple of years if you’ve had no adverse results previously – to ensure you are keeping track of any changes in vaginal cells that could indicate a pre-cancerous condition.
Every woman should have a vaginal health check at age 21, or within three years of becoming sexually active. Get anything unusual – like painful sex – checked out.
Pain experienced during sex may spread to the labia and pelvic areas during or after intercourse, and may be caused by a range of disorders. These include menopausal or pre-menopausal vaginal dryness, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) caused by chlamydia, or spasms of the vaginal muscles caused by a fear of being hurt.
- Treat Infections when they arise
The most common vaginal infections are yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.
- Yeast infections.These are most commonly caused by candida (non-sexually transmitted) or by uncontrolled diabetes (leading to high sugar levels), pregnancy (which changes hormone levels), or antibiotic treatment. Yeast infections can often be treated with over-the-counter pharmacy creams, or suppositories you insert into the vagina. If yeast infections recur, try making changes to your diet, avoid tight clothing and synthetic fabrics, limit the use of vaginal deodorants and change from wet clothing, like a bathing suit, as soon as possible.
Bacterial vaginosis.This is not sexually transmitted, but is more common in sexually active women. It is caused by an over-growth of bacteria, and is at least as common as yeast infections in women of reproductive age. Up to 50 percent of women who have bacterial vaginosis do not experience any symptoms. Bacterial vaginosis can only be treated with prescription drugs taken as a pill or used as a vaginal cream or gel. Some medications for bacterial vaginosis should not be taken during the first three months of pregnancy.
- Trichomoniasis and Chlamydia.These are the most common sexually transmitted vaginal diseases. Both may have few symptoms and can best be diagnosed by your doctor. If you suspect you have one of these infections have a checkup out to avoid possible reproductive health problems in the future.
- Lube up during sex
Lubrication is an important aspect of intercourse. Without it, the skin of the labia and vagina can become irritated and chafed. Normally, natural lubrication occurs when a woman is sexually aroused, but hormonal changes, stress or menopause can affect this process. Don’t hesitate to use a personal lubricant cream or sex gel to help with lubrication, but give preference to a natural, water-based lubricant such as Ignite Intimate Gel. Avoid mineral oils which can damage the latex in condoms and may cause infection.
- Choose clothing carefully
Synthetic fabrics and tight-fitting underwear or pants can increase heat and moisture in the genital area, increasing the likelihood of bacterial or yeast infections. Give preference to loose-fitting styles, avoid G-strings and use natural fabrics like cotton wherever possible. Change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible.
- Follow good hygiene practices
Commonsense goes a long way in helping maintain vaginal health. After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to avoid bacterial contamination of the vagina and lower the risk of bladder infection. Change sanitary pads and tampons regularly during your period. When you're not having your period, don’t use pads or panty liners to absorb normal vaginal discharge; they keep moisture and warmth near your vagina, which can result in infection.
Other ways to promote sexual health
It’s important to understand that sexual health issues can be treated and it’s worth doing something about. If your sexual health is suffering from physical or emotional problems, take stock of your situation, talk to your doctor and your partner and make a checklist of things you can do to address them.
Some practical options include:
- Check for any underlying physical causes.
- Make lifestyle changes to reduce stress.
- Discuss a possible change to medications with your doctor.
- Be kind to your body. Exercise, stop smoking, control stress, lose weight and reduce alcohol.
- Check testosterone levels.
- Try a herbal supplement like Herbal Ignite for Women.
How Herbal Ignite for Women helps support women’s sexual health
Herbal Ignite for Women is an over-the-counter dietary supplement taken daily with food to support pre-menstrual tension and menopause and to restore hormone levels to a healthy balance. It also helps reduce stress levels and increase libido.
Herbal Ignite for Women contains four key ingredients:
- Damiana is the key fatigue and stress fighter in Herbal Ignite for Women. Known as the ‘ultimate feel-good herb’ for women, it combats fatigue, relaxes the body, reduces stress and anxiety, lifts mood and enhances sexual response. It also helps balance female hormone levels, control hot flushes and is especially renowned for its libido enhancing qualities.
- Dong Quai is known as ‘the women’s herb’ or ‘female ginseng’ because it is recognised in traditional Asian medicine as an excellent all-purpose women’s herb. It is used to calm nerves, relieve anxiety and mood swings, aid in the treatment of various skin conditions, promote youthfulness, reduce stress and is also considered effective in treating cancer. It also helps restore hormonal balance, improve menstrual regularity and relieves PMS and hot flushes.
- Tribulus Terrestris is a general tonic that supports sex drive, ovulation and reproductive health. It also balances hormone levels, boosts vitality and sense of wellbeing.
- Horny Goat Weed has been used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac to increase libido, improve sexual response and function and create a feeling of wellbeing during menopause. It has been used since ancient times to promote physical and mental energy. It stimulates libido by enhancing sexual response and orgasm, relieves symptoms associated with PMS and menopause, balances hormones, relieves stress and aids in the treatment of osteoporosis.
Horny Goat Weed contains a flavonoid called Icariin that assists to increase nitric oxide levels relaxing genital muscles, promoting orgasms. It also influences the stress hormone cortisol to help relieve stress.
Herbal Ignite has been used successfully by thousands of women in New Zealand and Australia to help beat stress and fatigue, boost libido and sexual satisfaction. It is 100% natural and free of unpleasant side effects. It is made in New Zealand to the highest standards, with thorough testing and guarantees of no adulteration or undeclared ingredients.
Disclaimer. This information is provided for general informational purposes only and does not substitute for the advice provided by your medical professional. Always seek specific medical advice for treatment appropriate to you. Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed.
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