Nearly half of millennial women are dissatisfied with their sex lives, according to a new Public Health England (PHE) survey.
The survey of around 7,300 women over the age of 16 found that sexual satisfaction increases with age. While 49% of women aged 25–34 said they lacked an enjoyable sex life, only 29% of women aged 55–64 came to the same conclusion.
PHE's report, the first of its kind, is designed to examine how women’s reproductive health issues are affecting the nation’s physical, mental and social wellbeing.
Responding to the results, PHE public health consultant Sue Mann said: "Enjoying a fulfilling sex life is important for women's mental and emotional wellbeing. Our data show that sexual enjoyment is a key part of good reproductive health and that while many women are reporting sexual dysfunction, many are not seeking help."
While many women are reporting sexual dysfunction, many are not seeking help
The survey found that 31% of women have experienced severe reproductive health symptoms in the last 12 months. These include heavy menstrual bleeding, the onset of menopause, incontinence and infertility.
But alarmingly, the survey also found that 59% of women had felt compelled to lie to their boss about their reasons for needing time off work.
"Since I was 13, I have felt embarrassed about having heavy menstrual bleeding – a health issue which has caused me debilitating pain and nausea," said Angela Kilcoyne, a 44-year-old woman from Derbyshire who took part in PHE's focus group.
"I worked for years in banking, which was a very male-dominated environment, and I never told my managers that I was off due to horrendous period pain. They would not have understood at all, so I would have to invent reasons month after month and soldier on. Or I would dose myself up and try and get through the day best I could, then collapse when I got home. Reproductive health should be spoken about in the workplace in the same way as sickness or flu."
Mann urged workplaces to reduce stigma surrounding reproductive health issues so women feel more comfortable talking about their symptoms.
"Our research has highlighted that while individual reproductive health issues and concerns change throughout a woman’s life, the feelings of stigmatisation and embarrassment were almost universal," she said.
"The report reveals the need for an open and supportive approach in the workplace and in the health system. We encourage women to seek support from their workplace, and for workplace management to be aware of how reproductive health symptoms can affect women’s daily life."
Two years ago, Bristol-based company Co-Exist became the first organisation in the UK to implement a 'period policy' which allows its female employees to work flexibly when they are menstruating.
Speaking at the time, company director Bex Baxter said Co-Exist wanted women to be able to regulate their "work-load in line with the natural cycles of the body".
"We wanted a policy in place which recognises and allows women to take time for their body's natural cycle without putting this under the label of illness," she added.
Hearteningly, PHE's survey also found that most women with an active sex life are using at least one form of contraception. Around a third said they were taking the pill, while another third said they were using a coil.
However, 12% of young women aged 16–24 said they didn't use any regular method of contraception.
In the report, PHE said that by working with various health bodies, it has now "positioned reproductive health as a public health issue that needs to be addressed".
It has pledged to create a "five-year action plan" to do this, "informed by the best available data and women’s real-life experiences of reproductive health symptoms".