FSRH statement: new study shows women disproportionately experience poor sexual and reproductive health

Posted 10 January 2020

Date: 10 Jan 2020

Type: FSRH Press Releases and Statements

Almost half of British women experience poor sexual and reproductive health, a much higher number than men, with many also experiencing a larger range of issues. This is one of the findings from a major new study published on BMC Public Health using interview data from more than 7,000 women and 5,000 men from Britain’s third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal).

The analysis considered 18 different issues in three sexual and reproductive health domains: risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); sexual function problems – for example, lack of interest in sex, painful sex and erectile dysfunction; and sexual coercion, including nonvolitional sex since the age of 13.

In addition to finding that almost half of British women experience poor sexual and reproductive health in the areas above, the study has found that women experience a wider variety of issues than men, with many reporting low interest in sex. Many of the women reporting sexual function problems were not necessarily at high risk of unplanned pregnancies and/or STIs. The study also identified a smaller group of “highly vulnerable” women who reported adverse experiences in all sexual and reproductive health areas above, from risk of unplanned pregnancies to sexual coercion.

The researchers conclude groups such as women with low interest in sex and “highly vulnerable” women risk being overlooked by intervention efforts because their profiles differ from those traditionally considered at risk of adverse outcomes, underscoring the need for tailored approaches. They call for interventions with the “most widespread benefits” at a time of budget constraints.

Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said:

“This study confirms what we have been warning for years: that women are falling through the cracks of an underfunded and fragmented sexual and reproductive healthcare system.

“There are surely multiple factors at play, including personal reasons, leading to almost half of British women experiencing poor sexual and reproductive health, but we cannot continue to ignore that a large part of the population is not accessing the help and care they need.

“Women’s health has stood to suffer the most from the reorganisation of NHS services in 2013. Where once women could have all their sexual and reproductive health needs met in one place and one go, women are now often subject to non-holistic, disintegrated care.

“However, as this study shows, seemingly different sexual and reproductive health issues have common underlying factors, and these results show why we need holistic, integrated commissioning of sexual and reproductive healthcare.

“FSRH calls for strategic prioritisation of women’s health in national policy to tackle this large unmet healthcare need. Women must be placed at the heart of the recently announced sexual and reproductive health strategy, which has the potential to significantly improve the lives of 51% of the population.”


For further information and press queries please contact Camila Azevedo, External Affairs Manager, at externalaffairsmanager@fsrh.org / 02037945309

Notes to editors:

  • The British National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and lifestyles are among the largest and most detailed scientific studies of sexual behaviour in the world. Natsal was first run in 1990 and has taken place every 10 years since. The surveys use a probability sampling method to randomly select people from across Britain to take part, which means that the results are broadly representative of the British general population. The last round, Natsal-3, involved interviews with more than 15,000 adults aged 16-74 years between September 2010 and August 2012.
  • The BMC Public Health study can be accessed here.
  • Public health budgets have witnessed substantial cuts since 2015. Councils' public health grant has been reduced by £331 million from 2016/17 to 2020/21. This followed a £200 million in-year reduction in 2015/16. By 2019/20, public health budgets will have been cut by a total of £700 million. More than 8 million women of reproductive age now live in an area where the local council has reduced their SRH budget. 
  • Cuts to budgets and a fragmented commissioning system have created barriers for women to access holistic care. The medical profession has realised this and alongside FSRH, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) have called for an end to the fragmentation of sexual and reproductive healthcare services.
  • The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) is the largest UK professional membership organisation working at the heart of sexual and reproductive health (SRH), supporting healthcare professionals to deliver high quality care. It works with its 15,000 members, to shape sexual reproductive health for all. It produces evidence-based clinical guidance, standards, training, qualifications and research into SRH. It also delivers conferences and publishes the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health in partnership with the BMJ.