Women with chronic pelvic pain (CPP) are at higher risk for sexual dysfunction than women without CPP, research shows.
CPP strikes the pelvic region and lasts for at least six months. It can be caused by a number of health conditions, including endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Fibroids, painful bladder syndrome, pelvic organ prolapse, and ongoing stress have also been linked to CPP. Sometimes, the cause is unknown.
The pain can be constant or intermittent, sharp or dull. Women may feel like there pelvis is heavy. Using the bathroom and sitting for long periods can trigger the pain.
Ultimately, CPP can interfere with a woman’s day to day life, leading to sleep disorders and depression.
It can affect a woman’s sex life, too. To what extent? In a 2018 study, researchers compared the experiences of 100 women in Brazil. Fifty women had CPP; the rest did not. Overall, their average age was around 37 years.
Each woman completed a questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), a standardized assessment tool often used in studies of female sexuality. The FSFI focuses on six domains: desire, arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain. Higher scores on the FSFI indicate better sexual function.
The women were also evaluated for anxiety and depression.
Eighty-one percent of the women with CPP met the criteria for sexual dysfunction based on their FSFI scores. The rate for women without CPP was 58%. In addition, women with CPP had lower scores in the FSFI domains of desire, arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, and pain compared to the women without CPP.
However, both groups had similar overall FSFI scores and satisfaction domain scores. “Satisfaction” in this sense refers to emotional closeness a woman feels with a partner during sex, her sexual relationship with her partner, and her sex life overall.
Women with CPP were more likely to have anxiety and depression, too, and the researchers suggested further study in this area. Depression in particular was associated with sexual problems in the CPP group.
Depression may diminish sex drive, deplete energy, contribute to poor self-esteem, and lead to social withdrawal, the authors explained.
What can women with CPP do? The first step is talking to their doctor. Depending on the cause, CPP might be treated with medications, hormone therapies, physical therapy, spinal cord stimulation, trigger point injections, and surgery. If depression is a concern, talk therapy can help. Women may also think about couples counseling or sex therapy.
Journal of Pain Research
Da Luz, Rosa Azevedo, et al.
“Evaluation of sexual function in Brazilian women with and without chronic pelvic pain”
(Full-text. November 8, 2018)
“Chronic pelvic pain in women”
(August 11, 2017)