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Sexual Problems and Distress in United States Women: Prevalence and Correlates

Shifren, Jan L. MD1; Monz, Brigitta U. MD2; Russo, Patricia A. PhD3; Segreti, Anthony PhD4; Johannes, Catherine B. PhD5

doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181898cdb
Original Research

OBJECTIVE: To estimate the prevalence of self-reported sexual problems (any, desire, arousal, and orgasm), the prevalence of problems accompanied by personal distress, and to describe related correlates.

METHODS: The 31,581 female respondents aged 18 years and older were from 50,002 households sampled from a national research panel representative of U.S. women. Correlates of each distressing sexual problem were evaluated using multiple logistic regression techniques.

RESULTS: The age-adjusted point prevalence of any sexual problem was 43.1% and 22.2% for sexually related personal distress (defined as a score of at least 15 on Female Sexual Distress Scale). Any distressing sexual problem (defined as reporting both a sexual problem and sexually related personal distress, Female Sexual Distress Scale score of at least 15) occurred in 12.0% of respondents and was more common in women aged 45–64 years (14.8%) than in younger (10.8%) or older (8.9%) women. Correlates of distressing sexual problems included poor self-assessed health, low education level, depression, anxiety, thyroid conditions, and urinary incontinence.

CONCLUSION: The prevalence of distressing sexual problems peaked in middle-aged women and was considerably lower than the prevalence of sexual problems. This underlines the importance of assessing the prevalence of sexually related personal distress in accurately estimating the prevalence of sexual problems that may require clinical intervention.


Sexual problems are common in U.S. women and increase with age, but distressing sexual problems occur much less commonly and peak in middle-aged women.

From the 1Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts; 2Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, Ingelheim, Germany; 3PRC Health Services Research and Management Consulting, Washington, DC; 4RTI Health Solutions, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; and 5RTI Health Solutions, Waltham, Massachusetts.

See related editorial on page 968.

Dr. Segreti is currently affiliated with ASG, Inc., Cary, North Carolina.

Funded by Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH.

The authors thank TNS Healthcare Inc., especially Kerri Lehrhaupt, for data collection; Lee Bennett From RTI Health Solutions for performing the statistical analysis; and Dr. Ray Rosen of New England Research Institutes for providing expert clinical advice.

Corresponding author: Dr. Jan L. Shifren, Vincent OB/GYN Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Yawkey 10-A, Boston, MA 02114; e-mail:

Financial Disclosure Dr. Shifren has received research support from Proctor & Gamble (Cincinnati, OH) and consulting fees from Proctor & Gamble, Boehringer Ingelheim (Ingelheim, Germany), and Eli Lilly & Co. (Indianapolis, IN). She serves on the scientific advisory board for the New England Research Institutes (Watertown, MA). Dr. Monz is an employee of Boehringer Ingelheim. Dr. Russo is currently under contract with Boehringer Ingelheim and contributed to the development of the manuscript during the contract period. Drs. Segreti and Johannes performed work related to this article under a research contract with Boehringer Ingelheim and their employer, RTI Health Solutions (Research Triangle Park, NC).

© 2008 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists