Can Sexual Health Suffer Due to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 5-10 percent of women and has a long list of symptoms associated with it, as well as an influencing factor, Insulin Resistance. One little-mentioned issue that can affect women with PCOS is poor sexual health and sexual dysfunction.4 Most women with PCOS have reported that this condition impacts their sexual relationships and creates less satisfaction. Some of the more common symptoms of PCOS such as weight gain, acne, and male pattern baldness negatively affects sexual health and creates diminished self-esteem, which in turn lessens sexual confidence and arousal.3
Sexual dysfunction is a common issue with 40-45 percent of women in general, and the likelihood of these concerns increases with age and the presence of health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes.2 This means women with PCOS can experience a higher incidence of poor sexual health due to certain appearance-related symptoms and the increased risk of those physical conditions (diabetes and poor cardiovascular health) that cause sexual dysfunction. Add the documented disruption of intimacy experienced by infertile couples, another symptom of PCOS, and poor sexual health is not a surprise. It is however, something that can be addressed and even eliminated with targeted treatment options. Women with PCOS should never hesitate to discuss sexual health concerns with their doctor, and they should follow recommended strategies to address PCOS and factors such as Insulin Resistance to minimize symptoms and improve overall quality of life.
Are There Signs to Look for When You Suspect PCOS- related Sexual Dysfunction?
There are no defined criteria or a single test that doctors can use to diagnose PCOS because it is a complicated array of symptoms that add up to this disorder. That being said, there are some common PCOS markers that will certainly point your physician in the direction of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, including:9
- Heavy periods
- Excessively painful period cramps
- Painful intercourse
- Irregular periods
- Absent menstrual periods
- Hirsutism (excess hair growth)
- Male pattern baldness
- Acanthosis nigricans (dark skin pigmentation)
- Infertility or reduced fertility
- Ovarian cysts
- Obesity and difficulty losing weight
- Loss of sexual desire
Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome also have a greater risk of hypertension during pregnancy, miscarriage, poor cardiovascular health, and diabetes.10 Although sexual health seems less important than these more serious health conditions it can still contribute to a reduced quality of life in a significant way. Some of the conditions considered a risk for women with PCOS, such as diabetes and poor cardiovascular health, can cause sexual concerns. In general, women with PCOS report less sexual satisfaction than women without this condition, and if sexual dysfunction occurs frequently or is the cause of distress, then seeking treatment is a good idea.
You could have PCOS-related female sexual dysfunction if you have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Low sexual desire
- Painful intercourse
- Unable to have an orgasm
- No sexual interest
- Arousal during sexual activity is difficult to maintain
- No arousal despite wanting to have sex
When you have PCOS it is important to discuss any sexual health issues with a doctor, especially if these issues cause you or your partner distress or interfere with intimacy.
What can Negatively Impact Sexual Health?
The cause of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is not entirely clear, but it is thought to be strongly connected to Insulin Resistance, hormone imbalance, and even genetics. If you have a mother or sister with this disorder, then the likelihood of you having PCOS is higher. Insulin is an important hormone produced by the pancreas that transfers sugar out of the blood and moves it into other cells. This sugar is then converted to energy or stored as fat. When this process does not work as it should it is called Insulin Resistance. With Insulin Resistance the pancreas produces more and more insulin to remove sugar from the blood. These high levels of insulin can create an assortment of symptoms. Insulin Resistance is found commonly in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and many of the symptoms of PCOS can be linked to Insulin Resistance.
Many of the symptoms of PCOS such as obesity, excess hair growth, painful intercourse, and male pattern baldness can negatively impact a woman’s sexual health. Sexual dysfunction can have physical or psychological causes. Some possible causes of poor sexual health linked to PCOS can include:9
- Conditions like diabetes, poor cardiovascular health, and hormone problems
- Some medications such as oral contraceptives or blood pressure medication
- Stress or anxiety
- Hormone imbalance
- Problems with body image
Other factors that can contribute to sexual dysfunction include:2
- Sexual trauma
- Urinary tract infection
- Multiple sclerosis
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Conflicts with your partner
- Liver or kidney failure
No matter what the cause, there are many strategies and therapies that can address both PCOS and related factors like Insulin Resistance and sexual dysfunction.
What Can Be Done to Treat Sexual Dysfunction?
Issues with sexual health can have different symptoms and causes, so it stands to reason that treatment also varies depending on the individual. Sexual health that is negatively impacted by PCOS can be treated with a combined therapy approach that addresses several aspects of the issue.3 Many of the strategies employed to improve sexual health are also recommended for treating PCOS and Insulin Resistance. These natural therapies can include the following:
Exercise: Regular exercise will positively impact Insulin Resistance and help you lose weight, which can improve overall body image and mood.
Decrease stress: Employing relaxation techniques can help lower blood pressure and increase the ability to enjoy your sexual encounters.2
Reduce excessive alcohol consumption: This is a positive lifestyle change recommended for PCOS, and it is a fact that too much alcohol reduces sexual responsiveness.1
Quit smoking: Smoking restricts blood flow, especially through small capillaries including those in your sexual organs, which can limit arousal and sexual response.
Acupuncture: This is an area of study that has not been looked at conclusively for the treatment of PCOS but has been found to improve the symptoms of this disorder as well as improve sexual libido.
Yoga: This discipline promotes a peaceful mind and flexible body, which can improve overall psychological health and self-confidence. There are even certain yoga practices that focus on sexual functioning and energy.
Counseling: Open communication and therapy designed to address self-confidence issues linked to PCOS symptoms can be crucial for sexual health. Learning to communicate with your partner about your insecurities can create greater intimacy and improve sexual health.
Eat a healthy diet: Good nutrition is the foundation of treating PCOS and Insulin Resistance and can contribute to a lovely sense of wellbeing. Healthy whole grains, lean protein, and tons of fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight, improve skin tone, contribute to healthy hair, and give you lots of energy. All these benefits help manage your PCOS symptoms and impact sexual health in a positive way.
Can Sexual Health be Improved with Medication?
Medical treatments for sexual dysfunction can also address the underlying cause of the specific issue, such as hormone imbalance or Insulin Resistance-linked symptoms. Typical drugs prescribed to treat PCOS which can also improve sexual health include:8
- Oral contraceptives: These medications can regulate and normalize menstruation and positively affect acne and hirsutism. This can boost self-confidence and make you feel more attractive and sexually receptive.
- Metformin: This drug can help lower insulin levels, which improves PCOS symptoms that erode feelings of being attractive or sexy, such as excessive hair growth and obesity.
- Spironolactone and flutamide: These medications help obstruct the action of male hormones, which will help eliminate the hair and skin issues associated with PCOS.7 Having beautiful thick hair, clear skin, and less excessive hair growth goes a long way to eliminating self-esteem problems.
- Antidepressants: Getting treatment for depression or anxiety can be helpful to increase libido and sexual responsiveness.
- Use of a lubricant: Sometimes PCOS-related painful intercourse can be the cause of poor sexual health, so a vaginal lubricant can be especially helpful if you experience vaginal dryness.
Sexual satisfaction is very important for good quality of life, so seeking effective treatment options that pinpoint and treat the underlying cause of sexual issues such as PCOS can be crucial. Sometimes a combination of natural therapies and medicinal treatment options that target Insulin Resistance specifically can make a huge difference in sexual satisfaction and provide relief of the PCOS symptoms that erode self-confidence and satisfaction with personal relationships.
- Skrzypulec V, Nowosielski K, Drosdzol A, Kowalaczyk R. Sexual dysfunctions in selected endocrinopathies. NCBI. [Online] 11 2005. [Cited: 11 24, 2012.] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16821220.
- Sexual Problems in Women. Medline Plus. [Online] [Cited: 11 24, 2012.] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sexualproblemsinwomen.html
- Kathryn Martin, MD and JoAnn Pinkerton, MD. Female Sexual Dysfunction. Hormone Health Network. [Online] 06 2010. [Cited: 11 24, 2012.] http://www.hormone.org/Reproductive/female-sexual-dysfunction.cfm
- Månsson M, Norström K, Holte J, Landin-Wilhelmsen K, Dahlgren E, Landén M. Sexuality and psychological wellbeing in women with polycystic ovary syndrome compared with healthy controls. NCBI. [Online] 04 2011. [Cited: 11 24, 2012.] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21232840
- 9 Diet Tips to Beat PCOS. Heal with Foods. [Online] [Cited: 09 2, 2012.] http://www.healwithfood.org/pcos/diet.php
- About PCOS. Yale PCOS Program. [Online] [Cited: 07 11, 2012.] http://medicine.yale.edu/obgyn/rei/images/PCOS%20Inserts.web_tcm153-13313.pdf
- Androgens. Womens Health. [Online] 2009. [Cited: 08 13, 2012.] http://www.womens-healthcare.org/articles/androgen.html
- Dyspareunia. Health Scout. [Online] 04 11, 2009. [Cited: 11 24, 2012.] Dyspareuni
- PCOS Awareness. More Than Cardio. [Online] [Cited: 07 27, 2012.] http://www.morethancardio.com/pcos-awareness/
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Sensible Alternative. [Online] [Cited: 07 28, 2012.] http://www.sensible-alternative.com.au/female-hormones/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome
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