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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Married women 'suffer sexually'
Couple in bed
Poor communication is at the root of many couple's problems
Married women are more likely to have sexual problems than married men or single women, research suggests.

Researchers from University College London analysed data from a survey of 11,000 adults, giving a snapshot of what is happening in UK bedrooms.

Juggling caring for small children with maintaining a sexual relationship was highlighted as a problem by many.

The Sexually Transmitted Infections journal study also found communication issues were linked to sex difficulties.

A lot of people weren't able to talk about sex with their partners
Dr Catherine Mercer, University College London

The Natsal survey involved men and women aged between 16 and 44 who were interviewed between 1999 and 2001.

Women were significantly more likely than men to say that they had experienced a short or longer term problem with their sex lives over the past year.

Suffering in silence

Married or cohabiting women were more likely to have problems than single members of their gender, as were mothers with young children at home.

Problems cited by married women included not feeling like they were in control of decision-making in their lives, not using a reliable form of contraception, having small children around the house and not being able to talk to their partner.

But men who were married or cohabiting were significantly less likely to say they had sexual problems compared with single men.

Men who drank more than the recommended weekly units of alcohol, and those who had had a sexually transmitted infection within the previous five years, were more likely to report problems with their sex lives.

Experts suggest the link with STIs might be that some can cause pelvic pain, premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.

Having a chlamydia infection may also link to feelings of stigmatisation, guilt, regret and "dirtiness" in men.

The quality of the first sexual experience was identified as important for both genders, with those reporting a poor first experience more likely to report subsequent problems.

Partnership issues

Dr Catherine Mercer, of the UCL Centre for Sexual Health and HIV research, told the BBC News website: "Some of the results we have found are logical.

"But this is the first time we have data which we can use to develop appropriate advice and to give options.

"This is representative data from the UK population - it's not just people attending STI clinics."

She added: "It's communication which was seen to be really important. A lot of people weren't able to talk about sex with their partners.

"Sexual dysfunction isn't always an individual's problem. It may be about a partnership issue."

David Goldmeier and colleagues, of the Jane Wadsworth Sexual Function Clinic at St Mary's Hospital, London, writing in Sexually Transmitted Infections, said: "Despite its prevalence, sexual dysfunction is often endured in silence.

"Studies in both the US and UK suggest that as many as 54% of women and 35% of men have problems, but fewer than 11% of men and 21% of women seek help."

They said the study gave an in-depth view of the sexual complaints in society.

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