Sexual health related problems often go unaddressed but a recent study from researchers at Glasgow University, UK, has addressed these problems in young British population. The study showed that over 10% of sexually active young people in UK have distressing sexual health problems. In young people the sexual problems are reduced by ‘practice effect’ due to childhood and adolescence experiences, shaped by childhood sex education, confidence on one’s body and confusion about their sexual orientation.

The researchers analyzed survey responses from 2,392 people aging between 16 and 21, out of whom 517 participants were sexually inactive. It was found that 44% of sexually active young women and 34% sexually of active young men had experienced one or more sexual problems lasting for a period of three months, at least. 10% of the men and 22% of the women lacked interest in sex and only 1% and 19% of them, respectively, were worried about it. Sex is supposed to be a pleasurable activity but 5% of men and 10% of women found it unpleasant, while less than 1% and 8% respectively were worried about their inability to enjoy human sexual contact.

It was found that women were facing sexual problems more than men and their distress about their disturbed sexual life was far more than men. While 9% men and 13% women faced these problems more frequently causing them psychological distress, it was discomforting to know that people hardly seek medical help for sexual problems.

In men and women, the data was collected on the basis of experiencing pain, no arousal or excitement while experiencing sex; trouble in reaching climax state or reaching climax too quickly; trouble in keeping erection or uncomfortably dry vagina. Surprisingly, only 26% of the troubled men and 36% of troubled women sought help for their sexual life. The findings of the study were recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

This might indicate Britain being next in line to resemble the sexual health statistics of Sweden where people are increasingly losing interest in sexual activity and the rates are likely to cause many health and social problems.

Sexual health is indeed a private matter but discussing the problems pertaining to sexual health is crucial for the well-being of population.

Often when sexual health is focused in health debate, the matters are restricted to discussing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and safe sex, while routinely occurring sexual health issues largely remain unattended.

Discussions regarding use of contraceptives, safe pregnancies and protection against STDs like HIV, syphilis etc have been the prime focus of governments but talking about sexual pleasure is often a taboo.

Professor Kaye Wellings from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that sex education in the UK was often silent on issues of sexual satisfaction. The silence on a very important aspect of life was also reflected by the study results.

Sexual health as defined by World Health Organization is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

Sexual health has a well-rooted link to a person’s physical and mental health. If a sexually active person has a troublesome sexual health, their physical and mental health is also negatively influenced.

Over a period of last three decades, the dimension of sexual health related reforms have aided the advancement in contraceptive technology, medications for sexual dysfunction problems, reproductive health promotion and family planning programs.

With the surfacing of this research, the sexual health problems of young adults will find a voice.

The people who complained about distress faced particular sexual dysfunction problems. Amongst them, 6% women reported difficulty reaching orgasm while 5% of them felt a lack of interest in having an intercourse. About 5% men had a problem of reaching climax too quickly and 3% talked about erection problems.

While touching upon this issue, it is also important to recognize the ethical and cultural diversion of the population. In addition, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, sexual motivation, arousal and health status are also crucial to consider catering the sexual needs and problems of the increasing young adult population.

Dr Kirstin Mitchell, who was affiliated with London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the beginning of the study is now a faculty member at Glasgow University, said, “When it comes to young people’s sexuality, professional concern is usually focused on preventing sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.” She added that their study shows that sexual distress is not only a problem of older population in Britain but is also a common problem in early adulthood.

She urged that sex education and healthcare professionals should provide reassurance and opportunities to young adults facing such problems to resolve them timely. Talking particularly about the culture of Britain, she said that to improve sexual well-being in the population, it is important to reach out to people at the start of their sexual life. Otherwise, lack of knowledge and associated shame or anxiety can lead to lifelong sexual health problems with diminished sexual pleasure.

If a person’s sexual activity is disrupted, their mental health is also more likely to get harmed. Depression and anxiety are often caused in the people who also begin to have interpersonal problems with their sexual partners.

Previously conducted studies have also found that sexual dysfunction can lead to serious medical conditions including diabetes, hypertension problems and cardiovascular problems.

If these sexual health problems are gauged by medical professionals at an early age, many people will be protected from developing psychological and physiological ailments later in life.