Women’s Views of their Sexual Difficulties: Agreement and Disagreement with Clinical Diagnoses
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There is controversy about how to conceptualize sexual problems in women. Our purpose in this study was to compare ICD-10 diagnoses of sexual dysfunction in women with whether or not the woman perceived she had a sexual problem, her views on its origins, and its impact on her life. Participants (N = 401, M age, 37.8 years) were consecutive attendees to general practices in London, England. Our main measures were an ICD-10 diagnosis of sexual dysfunction and the woman’s own perception of a sexual problem. Based on reported symptoms and behavior, 38% of women had at least one ICD-10 diagnosis of sexual dysfunction. Prevalence fell to 18% in women who also perceived they had a problem and to 6% in women who regarded the problem as moderate or severe. A total of 73 (18%) women were assigned an ICD-10 diagnosis and agreed that they had a problem, 80 (20%) were assigned a diagnosis but reported no problem, 78 (19%) had no diagnosis but reported a sexual problem, and 170 (42%) had no diagnosis and reported no problem. For women with sexual partners, reported sexual satisfaction was lowest in those assigned an ICD-10 diagnosis who also perceived they had a problem and highest in those with no diagnosis and no perceived problem. Relationship and emotional difficulties were the most common perceived causes of sexual difficulties, whether or not an ICD-10 diagnosis was assigned. There were three aspects to sexual difficulties in women. The first concerned symptoms and behavior that clinicians used to make a diagnosis, the second was the woman’s own perception that she had a sexual difficulty, and the third was her level of sexual satisfaction. All three appear to be important and may explain why published prevalence rates of sexual dysfunction and associated factors are so conflicting.
KeywordsSexual dysfunction Diagnosis Women Attitudes DSM-IV ICD-10
We wish to thank all the women and general practice staff who participated or assisted with the research. We also wish to thank Cynthia Graham for her comments on a draft of the manuscript. Victoria Holt was funded by the Priory Hospital Group. Michael King and Irwin Nazareth conceived the idea for the study and obtained funding. Victoria Holt collected and managed the data. Michael King and Irwin Nazareth analyzed the data. All authors contributed to the writing of the paper.
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