Gynecologic factors in sexual dysfunction of the older woman. Clinics in geriatric medicine Goldstein, M. K., Teng, N. N. 1991; 7 (1): 41-61


Older women may experience sexual dysfunction due to many different causes. Some problems related to menopausal hormonal change may be easily treated with estrogen supplements. Other problems involve intricate interpersonal relations between the woman and her sexual partner and may require a combination of medical therapy and sexual counseling. Gynecologic cancer and cancer treatments are often accompanied by problems in sexual functioning. These problems may then impair relations and self-image, leading to a vicious circle of deteriorating social function. Some recommendations for the clinician follow. The clinician should maintain an attitude of openness to the possibility of sexual concerns in older women. Such concerns should be taken seriously and should not be dismissed as part of aging. Routine periodic health examinations can include a question such as "Do you have any concerns about your sexual life that you would like to discuss?" In follow-up visits for procedures with a high likelihood of causing sexual dysfunction, questions that would open the door to a discussion of sexuality should be asked. Sexual dysfunction should be recognized as a couple-oriented phenomenon. A woman's anxiety about her appearance, postoperative depression, or dyspareunia may be perceived by her partner as a sexual rejection and may initiate a cycle of decreasing contact or may even lead to erectile dysfunction. Sexual counseling should include both partners. When a surgical procedure that will probably have an impact on sexual function is contemplated, provide the patient and her partner with advance counseling. Descriptions of surgery should not be simply a statement of body parts to be removed but should specifically address the anticipated sexual effects. Counseling should include a description of basic anatomy and function of the genital organs. Illustrations and appropriate demonstration during the physical examination should be used to ensure the patient's understanding. Descriptions should be accurate without being either frightening or falsely reassuring. The patient should be counseled about the benefits of including her partner in discussions. Then, when possible, the sexual partner of the patient should be invited to sessions of advance counseling on contemplated procedures. Clinicians should remain open to the possibility that the sexual partner will be a nontraditional one, e.g., an unmarried male partner or another woman. The clinician should be alert to remediable causes of dysfunction. For example, decreased vaginal lubrication may be managed with use of water-soluble lubricants.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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