Many previously taboo subjects are now discussed openly in the UAE. But, even I was surprised by the range of topics covered at a recent event at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital.
Focused on women’s sexual wellness and health, it was sponsored by StratHealth Pharma, an affiliate of the global healthcare conglomerate CCL Life Sciences that has just launched MoreSense, a new intimate gel for women.
Fortunately, the conversation around women’s sexual health is now picking up speed around the world.
After all, the problems related to women’s sexual health are vast, and very varied. Uterine prolapse can lead to a range of issues including incontinence; vaginal pain and/or painful sex. Low libido, urinary tract and vulva infections, premature ovarian insufficiency, fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, low libido, problems with orgasm and sexually transmitted infections, are just a few of the many conditions women can suffer from.
Dr Manal Ibrahim Sabbar, head of obstetrics & gynecology at Gargash Hospital in Dubai, told us that most problems can be remedied, although the causes can be multifactorial. She explained that there are so many possible issues and that the causes can cross all our bodily functions.
Due to the stigma and shame surrounding sexual problems, some are only discovered as a result of another complaint.
“For example, a woman will complain about prolapse but, when you see it’s not that bad, you dig a bit further and find it’s actually a lack of orgasm,” she said.
The fact that women are having a lot of problems with sex means that men must be too. One of the big ones is lack of sexual desire.
“As gynecologists, we see a lot of lack of libido – we used to see it in women in their 40s but now we see it in those in their 30s as well. They say ‘I have no interest in my partner’. So, we have to decide how to help them. We use hormones, but not liberally,” Dr Sabbar continued.
There can be many causes, and they aren’t all physical. Dr Sabbar finds a lot of the issues with vaginal pain have roots in psychology. “There is a big rise in vaginismus and it’s all mental,” she stated.
The side effects of medication can negatively impact sexual function, as can the birth control pill, as well as medical conditions like diabetes. Aging plays a part too. Women can experience a range of issues during menopause, including vaginal dryness and loss of sensation.
Doctors have a variety of tools at their disposal to treat these kinds of issues. There are radio frequency sessions for aging or post-birth incontinence issues, systemic or vaginal hormone therapy treatments and a number of medications and therapies. Dr Sabbar went on to note that lubrication is key, and that it’s important to use a quality, chemical-free lubrication on a regular basis.
“Women need to know that sex is an important part of life – and happiness. If a woman is avoiding it for any reason, it’s a problem and one that can be addressed. Of course it’s normal for our sexual desire to change from the early days of marriage, but many people find that once a week is a good average for sexual activity,” said Dr Shabbar.
“Painful intercourse is not normal,” she said. “You don’t enjoy anything unless you are sexually active. It’s a human fact of life.”
Physical and mental factors
Dr Nadia Buhannad, a psychologist at the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, then spoke about how much of the sexual experience is about emotions and psychology. She said the libido is not something that can be measured.
“Everyone has their own standard,” she said. “It’s about your mind, your body, your emotions, it’s just not about intercourse…. Your state of mind can affect your desire.”
Some of the emotional factors that can contribute to sexual problems include:
- Poor body image
- Low self esteem
- Poor self belief
- Previous negative sexual experiences
- Previous childhood sexual abuse
- Relationship issues (fighting, lack of connection)
- Lack of trust
- Lack of communication
- Lack of emotional connection
In the Arab world one of the most damaging factors is the secrecy that still exists around sex.
But in addition to good communication, Dr Buhannad adds that maintaining a healthy sex life is difficult if a woman doesn’t love herself, doesn’t know what she likes and wants, and hasn’t thoroughly evaluated her beliefs about intimacy and healed any childhood sexual trauma. However, managing daily stress through yoga, medication, breathing and walking can help boost hormone levels.
“No one knows your body as much as you know yourself,” she concluded.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.