Patient-centered outcomes and treatment preferences regarding sexual problems: A qualitative study among midlife women


Sexual dysfunction is common in midlife women and can have a significant negative impact on quality of life. Although treatments exist, there is little research on which sexual function outcomes and treatments midlife women prefer.


To better understand the sexual function outcomes that were most important to sexually active women 45 to 60 years old and the types of treatments they would prefer from individual interviews and focus groups.


Twenty individual interviews and three focus groups (N = 39) were led by a trained facilitator, audio recorded, and transcribed. Two investigators developed a codebook, and the primary investigator coded all data. A second investigator coded five randomly selected interviews to ensure intercoder reliability. Codes relating to outcomes and treatment preferences were examined to identify central themes.


The mean age was 52.8 years (range = 45-59). When asked what they would want a sexual dysfunction treatment to do, women sought solutions to specific sexual problems: low desire, vaginal pain and dryness, and decreased arousal or ability to achieve orgasm. However, when asked about the most important aspect of their sex life, most women indicated emotional outcomes, such as enhanced intimacy with their partner, were most important to them. Most women preferred behavioral over pharmaceutical treatments, citing concerns about side effects. These women felt that behavioral treatments might be better equipped to address physical and psychological aspects of sexual problems.

Clinical Implications

This study highlights the importance of considering not only physical but also emotional outcomes when evaluating and treating sexual dysfunction in midlife women. It also emphasizes the importance of developing behavioral treatments in addition to pharmaceutical treatments.

Strengths and Limitations

By using a qualitative approach, this study allowed women the time and space to speak their own words about their experiences with sexuality at midlife. In addition, different racial and ethnic groups and menopausal statuses were represented. Limitations include limited generalizability, as is true for most qualitative research. In addition, although most women did endorse sexual problems, we did not exclude women with no sexual complaints.


Midlife women value physical and emotional outcomes with regard to sexual function. Many midlife women in this sample expressed a preference for behavioral approaches over pharmaceutical approaches for the treatment of sexual dysfunction.

Thomas HN, Hamm M, Hess R, Borrero S, Thurston R. Patient-centered outcomes and treatment preferences regarding sexual problems: A qualitative study among midlife women. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2017; 14(8):1011-1017. PMID: 28647404. PMCID: PMC5538956.

Date Published

August 2017