Celebrating International Women’s Day: March 8, 2024

Celebrating International Women’s Day: March 8, 2024

Addressing Inequity in Sexual Dysfunction Research

As International Women’s Day shines a spotlight on gender equality across all spectrums of life, it’s crucial to highlight areas where disparity still looms large—particularly in the realm of healthcare research. Today, we delve into the pressing issue of inequity in research on the causes and treatments for sexual dysfunction, with insights from Dr. Natalie Rosen, MSSU Science Lead for Sex and Gender.

Sexual dysfunction is a common issue that impacts more women than men, yet research and treatment options for men have historically received significantly more funding and attention compared to those for women.

“Women are disproportionately affected by all types of sexual dysfunction, underscoring the critical influence of sex and gender,” says Dr. Rosen. This issue is further exacerbated during major life transitions like pregnancy and the postpartum period, which can spike sexual dysfunction in both women and men, though notably more so in women.

Despite the high prevalence, only a third of affected women seek treatment for sexual problems, highlighting serious deficiencies in awareness and access to healthcare services. This hesitation can come from deep-seated societal rules and ideas about gender, which suggest that what society expects from men and women affects how they act sexually and whether they seek help for sexual problems. Women’s sexual desires are often undervalued, and there’s a pervasive belief that women should be sexually available to their partners. Such beliefs contribute to feelings of shame, invalidation, and isolation among women with sexual dysfunction.

Moreover, the issue of sexual dysfunction isn’t confined to heterosexual or cis-gendered individuals. Sexual and gender minorities face additional hurdles, including significant stigma and a lack of research focus and tailored services to meet their unique needs.

Dr. Rosen emphasizes the critical need for a paradigm shift in how research on sexual dysfunction is conducted. “Current research often applies male models of sexual dysfunction to women, neglecting fundamental differences in sexual responses between genders. This approach fails to consider how sex and gender operate relationally within couples.” This oversight not only skews our understanding but also limits the development of effective treatments.

To bridge this gap, it’s essential to adopt a more inclusive research approach to sexual dysfunction that considers the complex interplay of sex, gender, and biopsychosocial factors.

“Adequate models that account for sex, gender, and couple interactions are essential for understanding the etiology of sexual dysfunction and developing effective treatments,” says Dr. Rosen.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we urge researchers to focus more on these unfair differences. This effort will help achieve gender equality and improve life for everyone dealing with sexual dysfunction. We aim for a future where all health research and treatments are fair, consider everyone, and meet the varied needs of our community.

The MSSU is incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Rosen’s expertise on our team, guiding us to ensure that our patient-oriented research projects always take sex and gender into account. Dr. Rosen’s extensive knowledge and dedication to understanding the nuanced ways in which sex and gender impact health outcomes are invaluable.

Ongoing Research

Currently, Dr. Rosen has two patient-oriented research projects:

1. An observational and longitudinal study of women and gender diverse individual with distressing low desire (i.e., sexual interest/arousal disorder), and their partners. This study examines the role of childhood maltreatment and emotion regulation in women’s sexual desire and adjustment to this sexual difficulty.

2. A pilot study of a novel prevention program to promote the sexual well-being of women and gender diverse individuals who are pregnant, and their partners. This program is called STORK: Supporting the Transition to parenthood with Online sex and Relationship Knowledge. They are currently testing the usability and feasibility of the program.

Both studies have patient partners involved. This collaboration ensures the research projects are not only about them but also designed with their input and needs in mind.

Visit our Resources page for more information about Sex and Gender considerations in research.

Celebrating International Women's Day: March 8, 2024