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43% – the number of the beast

January 5th, 2006

Dr Petra

Whenever you read one of those many articles in the media or academic research papers about female sexual dysfunction (FSD) you can usually expect to see the shocking statistic that 43% of women have problems with sex.

Sometimes it’ll say 43% of women lack desire, or 43% women are dysfunctional, or 43% have problems with orgasm.

Whatever the reports say that figure is WRONG.

The percentage comes from a 1999 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Professor Laumann and colleagues entitled “Sexual dysfunction in the United States: prevalence and predictors”. Amongst other things the research suggested that more women than men reported dissatisfaction with sex – 43% of the 1749 women stated they weren’t happy with their sex lives. But the authors have taken great pains to explain ever since that just because they were ‘dissatisfied’ doesn’t mean they were ‘dysfunctional’ or ‘distressed’. In fact they’ve expressed concern of the consistent misuse of the 43% figure as an indicator of women having a disease or disorder.

Sadly because the 43% figure has done the media rounds and pops up quickly in a regular google search it’s consistently used to shore up media stories on female sexual problems – and sadly sometimes within academic research too.

The latest offender is Top Sante (UK) magazine in it’s February 2006 edition where it says ‘according to the British Medical Journal, 43% women aged between 25 and 45 complain of a lack of desire for their partner’. Now this is interesting. If you search the journal for 43% and lack of desire nothing comes up. And the available research on sexual functioning always starts from 18-year-old women and ends anywhere between 40 and 80. There isn’t a study of 25-45 women where 43% lack desire for their partner in the BMJ.

Perhaps during their clearly extensive research of the BMJ the journalist writing the Top Sante ‘Sex Therapy’ feature didn’t notice that the BMJ does mention female sexual dysfunction, but clearly outlines how it is not only a manufactured disease but the 43% figure is erroneous.

It seems during their search of the BMJ the journalist also missed the UK’s most current study of sexual functioning which clearly indicates that only 13% of women reported a lack or loss of sexual desire. Of those women most had an existing physical or psychological health problem contributing to their lack of desire. And not all of these women were distressed by not wanting sex.

I’m being a bit unfair just picking on Top Sante, after all the ’43% of women having a desire disorder’ mantra is persistently repeated througout our media that it’s now become part of popular culture.

Which is why there’s only one use for this figure – it’s the mark of the muppet.

If someone repeats the figure without questioning it then you can use that as a diagnostic to identify poor practice by a doctor, researcher, therapist, drug company spokesperson or journalist. Whoever they are, if they tell you 43% women have a sexual dysfunction they’re either doing it because they didn’t do their homework, or because they know the figure’s wrong but they’re using it deliberately to suit a hidden agenda that won’t be helping you.

You can find out more about female sexual dysfunction here.

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