Women's Sexual Health Archive


Women with post-traumatic stress disorder may be at higher risk for ovarian cancer

Research we're watching

Could a traumatic experience raise the risk of ovarian cancer? Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Moffitt Cancer Center found that women who remembered experiencing six or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had double the risk of later developing ovarian cancer, compared with women who had not reported PTSD symptoms. They were also more likely to develop a more aggressive form of the cancer. The researchers looked at data from more than 50,000 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study II. Early in the study, women were asked to identify their most stressful life experience and any PTSD symptoms they had experienced following that event. Researchers then looked to see which of the women went on to develop ovarian cancer. The study, published Sept. 5 in Cancer Research, found higher cancer risk persisted even if a woman's PTSD symptoms had occurred decades in the past. Past animal research suggests that stress hormones may spur tumor growth.

Image: martinedoucet/Getty Images

What is a submucosal uterine fibroid?

Ask the doctors

Q. I was recently diagnosed with a uterine fibroid. My doctor told me that the type I have is called a submucosal fibroid. What does this mean?

A. Uterine fibroids are common, affecting some 70% or more women. Doctors describe fibroids based on where in the uterus they are growing. There are three main types:

How can I prevent recurrent UTIs?

Ask the doctors

Q. I am 89 years old, and several months ago I was plagued by frequent urinary tract infections. The infections were treated, but is there anything I can do to avoid experiencing this problem again?

A. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are common infections that can occur when urine pools in the bladder and bacteria start to grow. These infections can be more common in older women for several reasons, including thinning of vaginal tissue, pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, or difficulty with emptying the bladder completely. In addition, estrogen helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina, which can protect against UTIs. But this natural protection may wane when estrogen levels drop after menopause. One of the best ways to prevent UTIs is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. This flushes out potentially harmful bacteria before it can cause a problem. You'll know you are drinking enough if your urine looks clear or light yellow. Some other strategies include fully emptying your bladder when urinating, urinating after sexual intercourse, and wiping from front to back after using the toilet. Also talk to your doctor about replacing estrogen in the vagina with a cream, tablet, or vaginal insert. Your doctor may also want to examine you for pelvic organ prolapse.

FDA takes some surgical mesh products off the market

Research we're watching

Transvaginal mesh, which has been used in transvaginal pelvic organ prolapse procedures since the 1990s, can no longer be sold in the United States because of concerns over safety and efficacy, according to the FDA. The number of women reporting problems related to these mesh products has grown over the past several years. The FDA said it made the decision because the companies that manufacture the mesh couldn't demonstrate that surgical procedures with their products work better than those without the mesh. They also failed to submit evidence that the mesh is safe and effective over the long term, said the FDA.

Women who have had procedures using mesh and are experiencing complications such as groin pain, persistent vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, or vaginal discharge should notify their doctor. Women who had procedures using mesh but aren't having any issues don't need to take any action aside from having their usual check-ups, said the FDA.

Testosterone therapy for women: Can it improve your sex life?

When it comes to hormone therapy, estrogen gets all the attention. But testosterone is also a player in a woman's sexual response, and testosterone therapy is occasionally considered as a way to treat low sexual desire in postmenopausal women if there is no other treatable explanation for the problem, such as conflict in the relationship, fatigue, depression, or vaginal dryness.

It's important to note, however, that although testosterone may influence certain aspects of sexual response, large studies in women of all ages have not identified a clear link between testosterone levels and sexual desire and satisfaction.

Improving your self-esteem can improve your sex life

Gravity is not kind to your body as you age. Nor are childbirth, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and the hormone declines that lead to muscle loss, loose skin, and thinning hair. Worry about having your partner see your sagging skin or generous waistline can discourage you from having sex, or you may demand that sex take place only under the covers, with the lights out. Needless to say, these conditions don't leave much room for a sense of closeness or inspired lovemaking. Often, a preoccupation with your appearance while making love will prevent you from initiating or responding to sexual advances.

A negative self-image isn't always rooted in your appearance. Career setbacks or other disappointments can lead to feelings of failure and depression, both of which sap desire. For men, episodes of impotence can undercut confidence in their masculinity.

Sex hormones and your heart

Here's the latest thinking about how estrogen or testosterone therapy may affect cardiovascular risk.

The two main sex hormones — estrogen and testosterone — have wide-ranging effects in the body. Produced primarily by the ovaries (estrogen) and testes (testosterone), these hormones affect not just your sexual function but also your bones, brain, and blood vessels, for example.

As people age, the natural decline in sex hormone levels sometimes causes undesirable symptoms, such as hot flashes or a flagging sex drive. Doctors can prescribe pills, patches, gels, and creams containing estrogen or testosterone to ease those symptoms. But are these products safe for your heart?

5 things that can scuttle good sex

"The brain is the body's most important sex organ." This well-known phrase bears more than a little truth. Functional sex organs, appropriate hormone levels, and the ability to become sexually aroused alone don't guarantee good sex. Other factors — brain factors — can get in the way.

Relationship issues

Tension and emotional distance can undermine a couple's sex life. Conflicts having nothing to do with sex, like finances or child-raising issues, can be at the root of a sexual problem. It works the other way, too: a sexual issue can strain a couple's ability to get along.

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