The Covid-19 pandemic brought health into sharper focus, and we are bombarded with content about self-care and wellness daily. Videos, podcasts, and articles advise us to maintain our health and even social media feeds are loaded with people sharing their journeys. While we are constantly talking about how important it is for women to prioritize their health, an important element of self-care i.e. sexual health and wellness fall through the crack of these conversations.
Sexual health is as important as physical and mental health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies sexual health as a fundamental characteristic of the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples, and families. It also affects the social and economic development of communities and countries1. And yet, many women shy away from this topic. Though India is the fifth most sexually active country in the world with 130 million sexual encounters every year2, sexual health is still a taboo topic in Indian society.
Women’s sexual health: The paradox of choice
Social norms about gender in non-sexual domains have influenced sexual behaviours. In most contemporary societies, a woman’s sexual pleasure is usually subordinated to a man’s pleasure. Thus, only those problems that interfere with the sexual pleasure of men or with procreation are largely considered worthy of treatment, while female sexual issues are overlooked3.
For instance, not all women require an orgasm to enjoy sex, but not being able to have an orgasm can be a problem for some women and their partners. Some common causes for the same include insufficient foreplay, worrying about sexual performance, mood disorders such as depression, or previous traumatic sexual experiences. Sexual problems in women are widespread, particularly in older women. Almost one-third of young and middle-aged women are affected by sexual problems4.
However, with the rise in technology, the availability of reliable information, and access to digital health clinics, there is an underlying transformation in mindset. Women are now opening up about their sexual needs, pleasure, and sexual health.
Talk about your needs
Intimacy goes beyond just sexual needs. It also comprises emotional, spiritual, physical, and recreational needs. If your emotional intimacy needs are not fulfilled, you might be less interested in sex. Since women are often conditioned from an early age to tamp down their needs and desires, they fail to talk to their partners about their sexual desires due to embarrassment. A satisfying sex life involves self-reflection and open communication with your partner.
- Communicate regularly with your partner as it will help you increase your confidence and comfort level
- Be open about your discomfort and concerns
- Keep the conversations brief and within your emotional comfort zone5
Managing varying sexual needs
Sexual needs change over time due to various reasons such as illnesses, medications, stress, or emotional instability. Differences in sexual needs between partners can occasionally lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, rejection, or resentment. In any long-term relationship, couples might encounter varying levels of sexual desire. Hence, talk about your differences and try to explore options that will satisfy both6.
If your difficulty persists, consult a doctor or sex therapist. Sometimes physical problems like vaginal dryness or vaginismus may interfere with your sexual enjoyment. Other sexual dysfunctions include the inability to have an orgasm, pain during sex, and lack of sexual desire. Experts can help you with potential underlying causes and recommend treatments.
Today, women have gained the confidence to speak up for their sexual needs and health. However, they require a more comprehensive and integrated approach towards it. Utilizing the right communication tools to design strategies with the right messaging is of paramount importance. Hence, various stakeholders need to leverage both traditional and new-age media to mobilize attention and awareness towards women’s sexual and reproductive health.