Such problems should be discussed openly and treated timely, to prevent them from escalating, from allowing stress and frustration to accumulate, from influencing relationships, and from impacting mental health.
According to statistics, one in four Americans suffers from a mental health disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that more than 18% of Americans are affected by anxiety disorders. At the same time, depression affects over 7% of Americans, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Women are the most vulnerable in front of these disorders, and research suggests that their precarious sexual health could have something to do with this state of facts. The evidence is still limited but too important to overlook.
The Link between Women’s Sexual Health and Mental Health
Research shows that poor sexual health impacts quality of life and physical and mental health in women. For example, a 2016 study on adolescent women associated good sexual health and positive sexual experiences with lower incidence of nicotine and drug use, lower depression rates, lower tendency to seek thrills, better entourages, higher self-esteem, and better social life.
At the opposite end, one study performed on 44 subjects found that women suffering from recurrent vaginal candidiasis are predisposed to clinical depression, have lower life satisfaction rates, poor self-esteem, perceive higher stress levels in their lives, and report negative effects on their sexual and emotional life.
These findings were confirmed by another 2016 study of more than 100 female patients who reported a lower quality of life and a considerable negative impact on their physical and mental health. A 2013 study compared recurrent vaginal candidiasis with asthma and COPD 9 and deemed it worse than headaches and migraines.
In another study, women diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis reported that the symptoms made them feel ashamed, embarrassed, and dirty. They complained that their condition affected their self-esteem and made them avoid sexual activity, leading to states of confusion and frustration.
Of course, sexual health cannot be limited to vaginal candidiasis or bacterial vaginosis. It also covers sexually transmitted diseases and infections. However, these, too, seem to negatively impact mental health. Research shows that women diagnosed with STD are at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder, needing mental health counseling, attempting suicide, using outpatient and inpatient mental health services, and resorting to injection drugs.
AOR explains that more important than the physical effects of STI are the psychological ones, and warns that depression and severe stress are the most common problems affecting people diagnosed with STI. What do all these sexual health problems have in common? They affect women’s intimate life, which, in turn, is closely connected to mental health.
For example, Mayo Clinic lists the following common symptoms for sexually-transmitted diseases:
- Bumps of sores in the genital or in the oral area
- Painful or burning urination
- Unusual, foul smelling vaginal discharge
- Unjustified vaginal bleeding
- Pain during intercourse
- Swollen, sore lymph nodes in the groin area
- Lower abdominal pain
- Skin rashes
It is easy to see why a woman suffering from a sexually-transmitted disease or a sexually-transmitted infection will not want to have intercourse and, if she does, will not enjoy it. Add to that the fear of transmitting the disease to the partner, the frustrations and low self-esteem the symptoms induce, and it is easy to see how STD could affect mental health. And yes, poor sex or lack of it affects mental health as well.
The Link between Sex and Mental Health
We’ve already established that women suffering from sexual health problems experience various symptoms that, on one hand, prevent them from desiring and enjoying intercourse and, on the other hand, affect their self-esteem and self-confidence.
In turn, lack of sex brings about a series of other problems and prevents women from enjoying numerous benefits like these highlighted by WebMD:
- Stronger immune system
- Improved libido
- Better bladder control
- Lower blood pressure
- Physical exercise
- Lower risks of heart attack
- Pain relief
- Better sleep
- Stress relief
We could say that lack of sex deprives women of the pleasure they would resent by earning an additional $50,000 a year. That’s the value one study attributed to the happiness spurt from having weekly intercourse. Indeed, the benefits are derived not only from the physical activity itself but also from the affection between the partners.
A series of studies attribute the contribution that intercourse is believed to bring to long-term happiness to cuddling and other affection expressions. The theory makes sense, considering that psychologists associate casual sex with negative mental health effects.
How Can Women Protect Their Sexual and Mental Health?
Mental health is a complex issue influenced by numerous factors aside from sexual health and activity. However, given the above-proven connection between sexual and mental health, it is safe to conclude that protecting and improving the former will have beneficial effects on the latter. Here are a few easy ways to do that:
- Protected sex (using condoms)
- Careful choice of partners (avoiding partners who show symptoms of STD or STI and/or adopt risky behaviors)
- Proper hygiene (washing before and after intercourse, using self-care products designed especially for women, free of parabens and other harmful ingredients)
- Investigating unusual symptoms to diagnose health problems early
- Seeking help for and treating any health problems
Finally, it is very important for women to understand that their sexual health is valuable, and problems related to it are nothing to be ashamed of. Most women experience sexual health problems sooner or later. Whether they develop them due to their unhealthy lifestyle, risky behavior, or as complications of other factors or they contract them from their partners is not as important as how they deal with them.
Such problems should be discussed openly and treated timely, to prevent them from escalating, from allowing stress and frustration to accumulate, from influencing relationships, and from impacting mental health. Luckily, nowadays, help is widely available to those who need it, no matter if their needs refer to their physical health, mental health, or both.