Public Education Pamphlets

The SOGC provides the following public education pamphlets designed for patients, clinics and health-care facilities. This material has been reviewed and endorsed by the SOGC’s subject matter experts.

What is a Healthy Sex Life?

It’s normal to have questions about your sex life. Your doctor, nurse or midwife can help. Every woman is sexual in her own way. What makes you feel good – how much desire you feel, and how often, or what type of activities you enjoy – will be different for everyone. It’s common to have questions about whether your sex life is normal, but it can be hard to talk about. Surveys show that up to half of all women have concerns about their sexual health; however, many are too embarrassed or uneasy to bring the subject up with their doctors, nurses or midwives. This brochure can help you understand some of the things that may affect your sex life and where you can find help.

Many factors can affect your sexual health

It’s normal for sexual activity and habits to change throughout your life. There are many factors which influence how you feel, both mentally and physically:
  • Your personality
  • Your religious beliefs
  • Your social and cultural background
  • Your physical health, including changes such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause
  • Your mental health and stress
  • Your relationship with your partner
  • The health of your partner
  • Your living situation

Change isn’t necessarily bad

What used to be normal for you may change as you age or start a new phase of life. For example, many women notice that their desire for sex changes, or that they have sex less frequently, as they get older. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: decreased desire or frequency doesn’t always mean decreased satisfaction. If you are still enjoying your sexual activity, it’s okay that it’s different.

What if I’m not happy?

If a decrease in desire or frequency – or whatever type of change you are experiencing – is distressing, you might be experiencing sexual dysfunction. Your health-care provider can help. Sexual dysfunction is a term that refers to a wide array of conditions or issues that might be negatively affecting your sexual health and activity.

What can cause sexual dysfunction?

Causes of sexual problems vary from person to person — What is a problem for one person might be okay for another. It’s only a concern if it is causing distress for you. Magazine articles and TV shows can sometimes lead us to believe otherwise, but sexual health is a very individual thing and you must be guided by your own feelings. If you are bothered by an issue related to your sex life, it is important to consider the following types of factors: Biological causes — Healthy sexuality depends on your body: nerves, hormones and blood flow must all function properly. Problems with any of these can lead to dysfunction. For example, side­effects from medication may be associated with up to 25 per cent of sexual concerns. Pelvic surgery may have a direct or indirect effect on sexual health. There are also certain conditions which can cause pain during sex (such as dyspareunia and vaginismus). Some medical illnesses can affect sexual function, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and thyroid disorders. The menopause transition often has an impact on your sexuality. Psychological causes — There are many lifestyle and health issues that may affect a woman’s level of interest in sex. Past sexual trauma, a mood disorder, stress, fatigue and medication can have an impact on your desire. Treatment of depression often contributes to decreased desire, especially if certain kinds of medication are prescribed. Relationship factors — The level of intimacy, your partner’s sexual interest and function, as well as your partner’s physical and mental health, can have an impact on your sexual interest and function. Social and cultural causes — Cultural and religious attitudes may affect a woman’s sense of her sexual self and the meaning she attaches to being sexual.

Is it normal not to want to have sex?

When a woman loses sexual desire entirely, it is sometimes diagnosed as hypoactivesexual desire disorder. Generally, low sexual desire, low arousal, and orgasmic difficulties are more likely to happen amongst postmenopausal women. If low desire is causing stress for you or your partner, the next step is to talk to your doctor, nurse or midwife about what might be causing the problem.

Here are some questions to think about if you are concerned about your sexual health:

  • In the past, was your level of sexual desire or function good and satisfying to you?
  • Has there been a decrease in your level of sexual desire or function?
  • Are you bothered by your decreased level of sexual desire or function?
  • Would you like your level of sexual desire or function to increase?
  • Do you feel like any of these factors might be contributing to your current decrease in sexual desire or function:
  • An operation, depression, injuries, or other medical condition
  • Drugs, alcohol or medication you are currently taking
  • Pregnancy, recent childbirth, menopausal symptoms
  • Other sexual issues you may be having (pain, decreased arousal or orgasm)
  • Your partner’s sexual desire or function
  • Dissatisfaction with your relationship or partner
  • Stress or fatigue

How to talk to your doctor about your sex life

Bringing up sexual health issues with your doctor, nurse or midwife can feel awkward. Sometimes the first step occurs when a woman is having an annual check-up or other medical appointment. Your care provider may ask you a general question about your sexual health to open the door for you to ask questions or raise concerns. You can take this brochure to your appointment to help you discuss concerns with your health-care provider. Other resources from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada:
  • Brochures available online at www.sogc.org:
- Menopause
  • “Female sexual health” clinical practice guideline available atwww.sogc.org/guidelines
  • Public education websites:
- Menopauseandu.ca - Sexualityandu.ca