Background: There has been little research carried out on the prevalence and types of sexual dysfunction in the general population, although the indications are that such problems are relatively common. Most common sexual problems are potentially treatable. However GPs have estimated the prevalence of sexual problems to be far lower than survey estimates.
Objective: To provide an estimate of the prevalence of sexual problems in the general population, and assess the use of and need for professional help for such problems.
Methods: We used an anonymous postal questionnaire survey. The study was set in four general practices in England*, and the study population was a stratified random sample of the adult general population (n = 4000). The subjects were 789 men and 979 women who responded to the questionnaire. The main outcome measures were the presence and type of current sexual problems in men and women, and the provision and use of treatments for sexual problems.
Results: A response rate of 44% was obtained. The median age of the responders was 50 years. A third of men (34%) and two-fifths of women (41 %) reported having a current sexual problem. The most common problems were erectile dysfunction (n = 170) and premature ejaculation (n = 88) in men; in women the most widely reported problems were vaginal dryness (n = 186) and infrequent orgasm (n = 166). In men, the proportion of responders reporting sexual problems increased with age, but there was no similar trend in women. Of those responders who reported a sexual problem, 52% said that they would like to receive professional help for this problem, but only one in ten of these people (n = 50) had received such help.
Conclusion: Among responders there was a high level of reported sexual problems. The most frequently reported problems (vaginal dryness, erectile problems) may be amenable to physical treatment in practice, and yet few had sought or received help. However, many said that they would like to receive help. These figures suggest that there may be an important burden of potentially reversible sexual problems in the general population.