Married Women Report More Sexual Woes Than Singles

But new U.K. survey finds the opposite is true for men

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By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 29, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Married women are more likely to report ongoing sexual difficulties than either single women or married men, according to an eye-opening new survey from Britain.

Single men, on the other hand, are more likely to report bedroom problems than either married men or cohabitating guys.

If that math doesn't quite add up, well, sexology experts have noticed that, too -- and have an explanation for it all.

"We found that communication was a key issue," lead researcher Catherine Mercer, of University College London's Centre for Sexual Health and HIV, said. "That is, within a relationship, people who were less able to talk freely with their partner about sex appeared to have more problems with their sex life. This also suggests that sexual function is not always an individual's problems; it may be partnership-specific."

In the study, conducted between 1999 to 2001, Mercer and her colleagues surveyed more than 11,000 British men and women, ages 16 to 44, asking them about the quality of their sex lives.

Among the problems survey respondents were asked about: lack of interest in having sex, feeling anxious about their performance, inability to climax, coming to a climax too quickly, experiencing physical pain during sex, men having trouble achieving an erection and women having trouble becoming lubricated. Respondents were asked if they had experienced any of these problems for at least one month during the previous year.

In total, 54 percent of the women and 35 percent of the men reported some kind of sexual trouble lasting at least one month in duration, while almost 16 percent of the women and more than 6 percent of the men said they had experienced a problem (or problems) lasting more than six months.

However, fewer than 21 percent of the women and fewer than 11 percent of the men said they had sought professional help, the researchers report.

On average, respondents said they had sex about four times a month. Those who had sex less than that had more sexual problems, regardless of gender.

While older age was associated with more problems for both genders, married women were more likely to report a sexual problem than were single women. Married women with young children at home were also at higher risk for sexual complaints -- a finding Mercer believes may be linked, in great part, to fatigue.

Married men or those living with a partner were less likely to report sex life problems than single men. The reverse was true for women.

Certain factors upped the odds of trouble in the bedroom. Those who rated their first sexual experience as not very good had more problems, as did men who drank more alcohol than is deemed healthy, and men who had contracted a sexually transmitted infection within the past five years.

Mercer believes men with a history of sexual infection may be "more open to recognizing and reporting sexual function problems" in general.

But whatever a person's gender or marital status, the key to getting help is to talk about the problem before it gets unwieldy, according to Mercer, whose study appears in the October issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections.

In general, Mercer added, the U.K. findings should probably apply in the United States as well.

The findings don't surprise Patti Britton, president-elect of the American Association of Sex Educators Counselors and Therapists, who directs The Center for Passionate Wellness near Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

She believes gender differences help explain some of the statistics. "Women tend to be more vocal in expressing their sexual concerns," said Britton, in explaining perhaps why more married women than men reported problems. "Men tend to carry a lot more shame about their sexual prowess."

"The complexity of the relationship plays in," as well, she added. Married relationships may be more complex than single partnerships, she said, especially when children are thrown into the mix. In contrast, single folk may simply move on when sexual problems surface.

"Married men may not want to acknowledge the problem," she added. If they speak up, "they fear the sex may disappear or the frequency decline. It would be perceived as complaining."

The U.K. survey respondents were younger (some as young as 16) compared with individuals typically surveyed by American researchers, Britton noted. U.S. researchers would typically not question people about sexual problems until they are 19 or older, she said. That means the relative inexperience of many of those surveyed may be skewing the results, as well.

Still, Britton agreed that "we need better education for sex so that, particularly, young people feel more competent as lovers when they have their first coital experience."

"We [also] need to advocate for better communication skills for couples," she added, as well as making sure people to seek and receive proper care for any sexually transmitted infections.

More information

To learn more about sexual functioning, visit the American Association of Sex Educators Counselors and Therapists.

SOURCES: Catherine Mercer, Ph.D., researcher, University College of London Centre for Sexual Health & HIV Research, London; Patti Britton, Ph.D., president-elect, American Association of Sex Educators Counselors and Therapists, and director, The Center for Passionate Wellness, Sky Forest, Ca, clinical sexologist; October, 2005 Sexually Transmitted Infections

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