Women with fibromyalgia who experience female sexual dysfunction (FSD) feel they need support not only from their partners, but also from patient associations and healthcare professionals, a study shows.
The study titled, “Social Support for Female Sexual Dysfunction in Fibromyalgia,” was published in the journal Clinical Nursing Research.
Sexual dysfunction is common in women with fibromyalgia (FM) as the disease can cause neurovegetative symptoms (decreased sleep, appetite, and sex drive), painful sexual intercourse, decreased lubrication, or impaired pelvic muscles. Patients also have decreased sexual desire and libido, which could lead to an aversion to sexual relations.
There is a distinct lack of studies on female sexual dysfunction specifically in women with fibromyalgia. The multiple factors related to female sexual dysfunction in FM patients highlights the need to explore this topic further, particularly in the area of women’s subjective experiences, researchers said.
Previous research shows that stigma, self-management, coping, and social support all play a role in determining the quality of life for women with sexual dysfunction and their partners. Researchers in Spain wanted to explore and understand the experiences and expectations of women with fibromyalgia regarding social support systems for female sexual dysfunction.
Thirteen women participated in the two-part study. In the first part, five participants took part in a focus group; the other eight were included in the second part, in which in-depth interviews were conducted.
Two overarching themes emerged, the first related to “searching for understanding in socio-family support” and the second related to “lack of formal support regarding fibromyalgia patient’s sexuality.”
The first theme was broken down into three subcategories.
The partner: the first link of support for FSD in FM — Women with fibromyalgia in this study agreed on the need for support from their partner, whom they considered to be an important part of their daily lives. Because the disease can affect intimate relations, the women felt the need to share with their partners and reach an understanding.
Breakdown of relationships: living with the threat — Women with fibromyalgia experience changes to their body, which may be attributed to menopause, or treatment therapies. The women themselves appeared to self-impose a negative body image based on weight and feeling bloated. The patients felt as if they were living with a threat toward the potential breakdown of their relationships.
Patient associations as a source of social support for FM — Participants thought it was important for patient associations to provide social support. Although women speak about fibromyalgia with family members, this does not extend to sexuality. Therefore, patient associations play a vital role in providing these women social support, where they feel understood and are able to share experiences.
The second theme was broken into two subcategories.
FM, a stigmatized illness — The women often feel they are met with a lack of understanding and a distant and disinterested attitude from healthcare professionals. They feel stigmatized by the system and healthcare workers, which makes them afraid to speak about fibromyalgia, and even more so about related sexual problems.
Sexuality trivialized, not on the professional agenda — The patients feel as if their sexual problems are trivialized and absent from consultations with healthcare professionals. This is a concern for patients who have questions that can be answered only by professionals.
The authors suggest that “an evaluation of FSD needs to be incorporated into the routine care for women with pain, chronic fatigue, surgical treatment, or FM and considered in conjunction with aspects related to physical, psychological, and social support.
“A comprehensive and individualized assessment of FSD in FM could help to manage symptoms and improve the coping process,” they concluded.