Nine In Ten Americans Say Sexual Problems Cause Extramarital Affairs, Marital Breakups And Depression

April 30, 1999

National Poll Explores Americans' Attitudes About Human Sexuality PLEASE NOTE: The following is based on an independent survey conducted by Bennett, Petts & Blumenthal (BPB) soley for the Gender and Human Sexuality Symposium. The survey DOES NOT reflect Columbia University research and is not associated in any way with research at Columbia University. For a copy of the independent survey please contact BPB via email at or call 202-342-0330

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 30, 1999 -- A new survey testing Americans' attitudes about human sexuality revealed that the majority of U.S. adults believe sexual difficulties can cause a myriad of other problems including depression, poor self-image, extramarital affairs and marital breakups. The survey, conducted by Bennett, Petts & Blumenthal for the Gender and Human Sexuality Symposium, comes at a time when the science and medicine of human sexuality have exploded, precipitating a dramatic shift in the treatment of sexual problems.

Commenting on the findings, Marianne J. Legato, M.D., F.A.C.P., Professor of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and Founder/Director of the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia said, "For the past year we've been deluged with information about erectile dysfunction or 'ED.' This survey is a 'snapshot' in time that looks at how American adults view issues related to sexuality and sexual problems as a whole."

The poll of 500 adults throughout the United States who were 25 years or older shows the importance of sexual health in maintaining an optimal quality-of-life for most Americans.

A full 94 percent of those surveyed said that sexual enjoyment adds to quality-of-life at any age (96 percent of men 45 years and older and 88 percent of women 45 years and older). At least half of American adults do not believe that sexual problems are something we should just accept as we age.

According to the survey, 82 percent of Americans consider a satisfying sex life to be important. In fact, more men said a satisfying sex life is important than said a fulfilling religious or spiritual life is important. And marriage doesn't appear to squelch interest in sex either. More married respondents considered a satisfying sex life to be important than did their single or divorced counterparts, with 91 percent of married men and 84 percent of married women ranking a satisfying sex life as important.

Legato commented: "As human beings, our sexuality is inextricably linked to our overall health, happiness and sense of wellness. These results show the importance the vast majority of American adults place on sexual health and relationships."

Of the 500 adults polled, 85 percent said they would talk to their doctor if they experienced a sexual problem, but they also expressed significant concerns regarding the potential conversation.

Seven in 10 Americans said they worry that their doctor would dismiss their concerns or say it was just in their head, with a full 82 percent of women expressing this fear. Seventy-six percent worry that there would be no medical treatment for their problem. And 68 percent were concerned that their doctor would be uncomfortable talking about a problem. In fact, almost twice as many Americans say they are more concerned about their doctor's discomfort than their own embarrassment.

"We need to establish an openness and level of comfort for Americans in speaking with their physicians and partners about sexual problems and health," Legato continued. "Clearly, sexual relations are of tremendous importance to the vast majority of the population, yet there remain inherent fears, misperceptions and stigmas about such issues."

When asked about the current media coverage on sexual problems, the respondents were clear on their views. Seventy-one percent of all American adults believe the media give men's sexual problems enough news coverage to keep people well informed about the symptoms, causes and treatments, with as many at 81 percent of married women saying there's enough coverage. Yet the number dropped dramatically to 54 percent when married women were asked if there is enough coverage of women's sexual problems. The same drop occurred when all women were asked. Seventy-seven percent of all women said the media give enough attention to men's sex problems, but only 52 percent said they give enough attention to women's problems.

The apparent bias that women see in the media coverage extends to the issue of blame. Fifty-seven percent of the women polled said that when there are sexual problems between two people the woman is more often blamed for the problem than the men is. On 37 percent of the men agreed.

The survey findings were highlighted by the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia at Gender and Human Sexuality, A Continuing Medical Education Symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The event was co-sponsored by The Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia and the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In attendance were physicians, researchers, government officials and members of the media.

The Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia is the first collaboration between an academic medical center and the private sector to focus on gender-specific medicine. Its goal is to spearhead research on gender-specific medicine and to develop comprehensive and unique educational programs that communicate the new knowledge to healthcare professionals and the public.

### Please note: This is an independent survey it DOES NOT reflect Columbia University Research


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