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Childhood Trauma Can Affect a Woman's Adult Sex Life, Study Finds
  • Posted September 5, 2023

Childhood Trauma Can Affect a Woman's Adult Sex Life, Study Finds

A stressful or traumatic childhood experience -- anything from parents divorcing to a sibling's drug problem -- may have long-term effects on a woman's sexual health.

These adverse childhood experiences may be linked to sexual inactivity and dysfunction in women later in life, a recent study reports.

Health care providers should screen their patients with sexual dysfunction for adverse childhood experiences, researchers recommend. Doctors should offer these women treatment that could include a referral for counseling.

"This research adds to the literature exploring sexual function in women," said senior author Dr. Ekta Kapoor, assistant director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Women's Health in Rochester, Minn.

"Sexual dysfunction has a significant impact on a woman's quality of life. Based on these findings, we encourage health care providers to screen for adverse childhood experiences in women with sexual dysfunction and offer multidisciplinary treatment including referral for counseling as needed. If the consequences of childhood adversity are not adequately addressed, other interventions to improve sexual function may not be successful," Kapoor said.

The study included more than 1,500 women, aged 40 to 65, who visited the Menopause and Women's Sexual Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota between 2015 and 2016. The women had concerns related to menopause and sexual health.

Before their visit, they were asked to complete a survey that included questions about any history of adverse childhood experiences, along with sexual function, recent abuse, their mood, anxiety, menopause symptoms and relationship satisfaction.

That information was then included in a Mayo Clinic women's health registry.

About 1 in 3 children have at least one stressful or traumatic childhood experience, according to the National Survey of Children's Health.

The researchers in this study looked for links between these childhood experiences and later sexual dysfunction.

The study defined traumatic experiences as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or growing up in a home with violence, drug use, mental health issues, or insecurity due to parent separation, divorce or incarceration.

The investigators found that women with four or more adverse childhood experiences were nearly twice as likely to be sexually inactive compared to women with no exposure to childhood adversity. And they were twice as likely to have sexual dysfunction in midlife, the study found.

Sexual dysfunction was defined as persistent problems with desire, arousal, lubrication, satisfaction, orgasm and/or sexual pain.

"This association seemed to be independent of other factors that also affect female sexual function such as age, menopause status, hormone therapy use, anxiety, depression, marital satisfaction and history of recent abuse," said study first author Dr. Mariam Saadedine, a research fellow at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

These findings now need to be evaluated in a more diverse group of women, the authors said. This would include those of lower economic status and those with limited access to health care.

The study findings were recently published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

More information

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has more on sexual health.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Aug. 30, 2023

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