The influence of lichen sclerosus on women's sexual health from a biopsychosocial perspective: a mixed methods study

The journal of sexual medicine(2023)

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Background Women with lichen sclerosus (LS) may suffer sexually because of dyspareunia, fissures, and introital narrowing. However, the literature remains limited on the biopsychosocial aspects of LS and its impact on sexual health. Aim To examine the biopsychosocial aspects and impact of LS on the sexual health of Danish women with vulvar LS. Methods The study was conducted with a mixed methods approach, including women with LS from a Danish patient association. The quantitative sample consisted of 172 women who completed a cross-sectional online survey that included 2 validated questionnaires: the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI) and the Female Sexual Distress Scale (FSDS). The qualitative sample consisted of 5 women with LS who volunteered for audiotaped, individual, semistructured interviews. Outcomes This mixed methods study combined data from 2 quantitative questionnaires (FSFI and FSDS) with qualitative interviews to achieve a comprehensive insight into the biopsychosocial aspects of sexual health in women living with LS. Results The sexual function of women with LS was considerably affected, with FSFI scores below the cutoff value of 26.55, indicating a risk of sexual dysfunction. On average, 75% of the women were sexually distressed, with a total FSDS score of 25.47. Furthermore, 68% of the sexually active women were considerably affected in terms of sexual function and sexual distress, thus meeting international criteria for sexual dysfunction. However, a negative impact on sexual function was not always related to sexual distress and vice versa. The qualitative analysis identified 4 overarching themes: (1) decrease in or loss of sexual activity, (2) interference with relationship dynamics, (3) importance of sex and intimacy - loss and restoration, and (4) worries about sexual insufficiency. Clinical Implications Insight into the influence of LS on sexual health is important for health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, sex therapists, and physiotherapists, to provide the best guidance, support, and management for women with LS. Strengths and Limitations The strengths of the study are its use of a mixed methods design and the inclusion of sexual function and sexual distress. A limitation is related to the properties of the FSFI regarding women with no sexual activity. Conclusions LS has a considerable influence on women's sexual health in terms of sexual function and sexual distress, as supported by quantitative and qualitative measures. Our understanding of the complex interactions among sexual activity, intimate relations, and causes of psychological distress has been enriched.
lichen sclerosus,women's sexual health,female sexual function,female sexual distress,quantitative and qualitative design
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