Understanding Medical Bias Toward Female Sexual Disorders
Female sexual disorders (FSDs) cover a broad range of physiological and physical symptoms that can cause sexual dysfunction. FSDs pertain to any chronic issue during sex that makes the experience impossible or unenjoyable for a woman.
While many other sexual disorders such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and performance anxiety are well-documented and represented in the public eye, FSDs do not have the same scope of research or medical and public recognition. They also do not have similarly comprehensive treatment strategies. These discrepancies can create unnecessary difficulties for women dealing with FSDs.
The impact of medical gender bias
Research studies indicate that medical bias can affect three different aspects of an FSD patient's experience:
- Patient-provider relationship: Both doctors and patients hold stigmas around female sexuality that can prevent helpful conversations or treatment. In addition, if doctors allow gender bias to impact their work, female patients may be less inclined to seek help with issues related to sex.
- Public perception of FSDs: Public perception is shaped by published research, which forms the basis of well-known facts and opinions. For instance, the widespread publishing of studies on tobacco use led to our common understanding of its dangers. Women are often underrepresented and understudied during the research process, thus, their health problems do not become part of common knowledge.
- Self-perception of FSDs: Individual women with female sexual disorders may understate the detrimental toll their condition has on their physical and mental well-being due to shame or other cultural factors.
Tracing the root of bias
Historically, women have often been been discouraged from expressing their sexuality, a societal norm encouraged by a primarily male medical field. Female patients may subsequently find themselves feeling suppressed and unable to accurately express psychological dissonance or physical symptoms associated with a sexual disorder. Evidence also indicates medical professionals often discount women's pain in medical settings when compared to similar male complaints of discomfort.
Another factor is the lack of representation of women in medical and scientific fields, which creates a research bias and underrepresents females—and also creates a skewed patient-provider relationship. This means men who are physicians may underestimate or fail to fully heed the full range of symptoms and complaints that female patients may report.
How to prevent & counteract bias
Several pharmaceutical and medical organizations are taking steps to better represent women and also minorities who are adversely affected by underrepresentation in clinical studies and product development. The National Institutes of Health has made a pledge to better represent women and minorities in its scientific panels, and groups such as The Lancet medical journal stand to represent women and other socially disadvantaged groups in different areas of research.
When women are more proportionally represented in the medical and scientific fields, research and clinical experiences become more accurate, providing a clearer image of how women's sexual disorders should be understood and treated.
Despite the archaic yet enduring taboo and stigma around female sexuality and expression, being open with yourself and your doctors is still the best way to ensure that a female sexual disorder is properly treated. Thankfully, gender representation in the science and medical fields is improving, which, hopefully, will diminish medical bias.