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A new study out of Australia asked women if they were happy with their sex lives. Getty Images
  • A new study found that over 50 percent of young women in Australia report sexually-related personal distress.
  • The study looked at 7,000 women, half of whom reported feeling stressed, guilty, embarrassed, or unhappy about their sex lives.
  • Low sexual self-image was the most common sexual dysfunction, affecting 11 percent of participants.

Half of young Australian women experience sexually-related personal distress. And 1 in 5 have at least one female sexual dysfunction (FSD), according to a new study.

The research, conducted by a team at Monash University and published in Fertility and Sterility, examined women between the ages of 18 and 39.

Of nearly 7,000 women, 50.2 percent of them experienced some form of personal distress regarding sex. This included feeling stressed, guilty, embarrassed, or unhappy about their sex lives.

At least 20.6 percent had at least one FSD. And 29.6 percent of women experienced distress without dysfunction.

Low sexual self-image was the most common FSD, affecting 11 percent of participants. Arousal, desire, orgasm, and responsiveness dysfunction impacted 9 percent, 8 percent, 7.9 percent, and 3.4 percent, respectively.

Of the women, 20 percent were taking a psychotropic medication such as antidepressants. The use of the combined oral contraceptive pill wasn’t associated with any sexual dysfunction.

Sheryl A. Kingsberg, PhD, a professor in reproductive biology and psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, told Healthline that low sexual self-image is not a sexual dysfunction.

Sexual dysfunctions include hypoactive sexual desire disorder, arousal disorder, orgasmic disorder, and pain with sexual activity.

Low sexual self-image can result in any or all of those dysfunctions, Kingsberg said.

“Feeling self-conscious, insecure, or badly about one’s appearance certainly can interfere with sexual activity,” Kingsberg said.

Negative self-talk tends to distract from desire and keeps someone from staying present in the experience. It’s difficult to focus on pleasure, sensation, and desire if your mind is otherwise focused on negative self-evaluation, she said.

“It is not that women are more dissatisfied nowadays, but more likely that the prevalence of sexual concerns are the same as they have been… but the media and social media has now publicized it,” Kingsberg said. She wasn’t affiliated with the research.

People have always worried about their appearance, but Susan Davis, PhD, a professor of women’s health at Monash University and senior author, hopes people consider how social media and availability of mainstream pornography may have increased pressures on young women as to their sexual appearance.

Women’s dissatisfaction in sexuality remains constant — their dissatisfaction with healthcare providers addressing their problems has risen… as it should, Kingsberg said.

Davis said that researchers already know there’s a bidirectional link between a sexual relationship and quality of relationship.

“We have shown in a study of young women that women with dissatisfied sex lives have lower quality of life,” she told Healthline. “So sexual well-being matters a lot,” she said, adding that sexual issues can be due to other personal problems or an indicator of other problems.

“This is a wake-up call to the community and signals the importance of health professionals being open and adequately prepared to discuss young women’s sexual health concerns,” Davis said in a statement.

About one-third of women were single, 47 percent had a normal body mass index, and almost 70 percent had been sexually active within 30 days of completing the questionnaire.

Women who routinely focused on their appearance and felt that appearance determined their level of physical self-worth reported being less sexually assertive and more self-conscious when they were intimate. They experienced lower sexual satisfaction.

Davis said more research needs to be done to find out why so many young women are distressed about sexuality.

“This is a complex issue we unearthed that requires a new study which we hope others will now undertake,” she told Healthline.

Experiencing distress or dysfunction? Talk to your gynecologist for an assessment, treatment, or referral to seek out a specialist in sexual medicine, Kingsberg said.

“Distressing sexual problems are very common in women of all ages and women have a right to have healthy sexual function. Women should be empowered to seek information and help,” she added.