Good sexual health is important for overall health and wellbeing. Safer sex (using a condom) helps to reduce the risks of picking up or passing on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and from unwanted pregnancy. However, lots of us will have problems with sex or relationships from time to time and help, treatment and support is available.

Understanding your sexual health

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a cause of sexual ill-health for women and can be passed from person to person during oral, anal or vaginal sex. Sometimes too, sex can be difficult or painful, the causes of which can vary. However, there's lots of help and advice available for any of these issues from either your GP or sexual and reproductive health clinic.

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The common causes and reasons for sexual ill-health in women

A loss or lack of sex drive can affect women at certain times in their lives, and can be caused by both physical and psychological factors. These include tiredness, depression, certain medications and hormone disorders.

The menopause can make sex more painful, as oestrogen levels fall and the vagina feels dry. But strong discomfort could also be a result of vaginismus, where muscles around the vagina spasm and contract, making intercourse extremely painful or impossible.

Unusual vaginal discharge is commonly a result of bacterial vaginosis. We don’t know much about the causes of it, but it’s thought to be down to an imbalance in the bacteria in your vagina. It’s not an STI, but symptoms can be noticed after sexual intercourse. For the majority of women, it will not be serious.

Trichomoniasis (also called trichomonas or TV) is a sexually transmitted infection caused by tiny parasites in both men and women. The infection is found in the vagina of women, and in the urethra of both men and women. Symptoms can be very had to spot, with 50% of those infected showing no signs at all. It causes soreness and swelling around the genitals, and can be painful to urinate. It’s easily passed from one person to another by sexual contact.

Many women don’t need to have an orgasm to enjoy sex, but if not having one is a problem, there could be many different reasons for it. These may be physical or psychological, because of pain, lack of stimulation, fear and worries, or even a lack of knowledge about sex. Or it could be a result of underlying relationship problems, mood disorders or previous sexual trauma.

Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where or when it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help. St Mary’s Sexual Assault Centre in Manchester offers help and support for women, men and children who have experienced rape or sexual assault, recently or in the past. You don’t need to make a report to the Police to use the services at St Mary’s.

St Mary's Sexual Assault Centre (SARC) www.stmaryscentre.org

If you have experienced female genital mutilation, you may find sex painful and difficult. You might have a reduced sexual desire and a lack of pleasurable sensations, or want to avoid intimacy all together. There is no medical reason for FGM.

It is illegal to carry out FGM in the UK, and a criminal offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to perform FGM overseas or take their child abroad to have FGM carried out.