Sex is Good for You... According to NewYork Weill Cornell Physicians

Sexual Dysfunction, Largely Untreated, Should Be Seen as Major Health Issue

Oct 13, 2003


Sex has many health benefits—including mental, cardiovascular, and immune system health—according to two physicians and sexual health experts at NewYork Weill Cornell Medical Center. Likewise, sexual dysfunction, which is largely untreated, has many associated health risks and should be treated as a major public health issue, they say, especially as more adults are enjoying sex later in life.

"Sex is good for you, with benefits including a longer, healthier, and happier life," says Dr. John Mulhall, Director of the Sexual Medicine Program and Associate Attending Urologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Associate Professor of Urology at the Weill Cornell Medical College. "Conversely, sexual problems like erectile dysfunction (ED) can contribute to a variety of other mental and physical problems, including depression and relationship discord. ED may also be a harbinger of diseases, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, coronary artery disease, among others."

"Sexual dysfunction, especially ED, is a major public health issue," continues Dr. Mulhall. "More men have ED than have diabetes, yet the condition is untreated in nine out of ten men."

Research has shown that men do not seek treatment for ED due to embarrassment, fear, lack of knowledge, and lack of motivation. Likewise, many physicians do not query patients about ED due to discomfort, time constraint, lack of interest, and lack of knowledge.

"More people are having sex than ever before—and later in life," says Dr. Barbara Bartlik, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Obstetrics & Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center. "As the population ages, and treatments for sexual function improve, men and women will continue to enjoy sex late in life."

A 2000 study (International Journal of Impotence Research, Braun, et al.) found that 71 percent of persons 70 to 80 years old are having some form of sex, and 41 percent of this group are having sex weekly.

"This generation of older Americans is not going to give up and willingly accept abstinence as they age," says Dr. Bartlik. "According to the late Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan: 'If older persons' health remains intact, their sexual functioning will be preserved until the end of life.' However, as people age, they often develop sexual difficulties that are the result of health problems or medications they may be taking." Dr. Kaplan founded the Human Sexuality Program at NewYork Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Erectile dysfunction can be caused by physical and emotional factors. Physical causes include vascular problems (40%), diabetes (30%), and medication (15%). The most popular treatment for ED is oral medications (pills) such as Viagra or Levitra. Other treatments include urethral suppositories, penile injection therapy, vacuum devices, and penile implants.

While erectile dysfunction is the most discussed male sexual dysfunction, other problems include rapid ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, Peyronie's disease, and low libido.

Overall, 43 percent of women have some form of sexual dysfunction. Of these, 32 percent experience lack of desire, 26 percent have orgasmic disorder, and 21 percent suffer from arousal disorder.

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