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Women are battling poor sex lives and reproductive-health issues

Dec 9, 2019 by Hamza Sheraz.

In the first survey of its kind, Public Health England identified a lack of sexual satisfaction and stigma around menstruation as huge concerns among women.

Almost half of women between the ages of 25-34 have professed to have an unsatisfactory sex life, compared with less than a third of 55- to 64-year-olds, a survey from Public Health England (PHE) has revealed.

The landmark survey took responses from over 7,000 women above the age of 16 and is intended to influence new and impending reproductive-health policies.

According to the results, women’s sexual satisfaction tended to improve with age, but still, a large proportion of the women surveyed expressed discomfort with seeking help for sexual or reproductive issues.

Painful and heavy periods, menopause and sexual satisfaction were among the top reproductive- and sexual-health issues in the survey results, with fear of unwanted pregnancies revealed to be the biggest concern among respondents.

One of the largest revelations in the survey was the difficulty respondents faced when it came to addressing reproductive-health issues at work. According to PHE, less than half of women sought help for the symptoms they were facing “regardless of severity”, due to the stigma associated with reproductive health.

Twelve per cent of women revealed that they had taken time off work because of menopause symptoms, but 59% of women admitted that they had lied about having to take time off work because of it. And when it came to periods, 35% of women said they suffer from heavy bleeding, which, in the past, has been shown to lead to “higher unemployment and absence from work”.

One of the participants in a recent PHE focus group on reproductive health said: “Since I was 13, I have felt embarrassed about having heavy menstrual bleeding – a health issue which has caused me debilitating pain and nausea. I worked for years in banking, which was a very male-dominated environment, and I never told my managers that I was off due to horrendous period pain.

That so many people feel conflicted about revealing the true reason behind their absences from work is unsurprising, given the fact that so few work environments explicitly foster a culture of openness when it comes to issues like menopause, dysmenorrhea (severely painful periods) and heavy bleeding. PHE’s Dr Sue Mann, a public-health consultant in reproductive health, said that the “feelings of stigmatisation and embarrassment” surrounding reproductive health – which “can fundamentally influence physical and mental wellbeing throughout their whole life course” – were “almost universal”.

The survey forms part of a cross-governmental five-year action plan and will bring together 18 healthcare bodies in order to highlight reproductive health as an issue in dire need of addressing.