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MEDICAL RESEARCH

, MD, MS|September 23, 2021

Throughout the pandemic, sex has been a hot topic in the media. The outbreak changed the way many people view copulation and sexual relations, according to recent survey results from the Kinsey Institute.

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Couple in bed together

A variety of new studies in the past year shed new insights on sexual health.

“Study results also point to several trends among respondents: an increased interest in commitment, an increased consideration of health factors when approaching dating and sexual activity, and a willingness for sexual experimentation,” the Institute wrote.

Specifically, more than half of the 2,000 Americans surveyed said they are not interested in one-night stands, 68% of respondents said they are less likely to cheat, 64% said they are less interested in having more than one sexual partner at a time, and 37% said they are waiting longer to have sex. 

In other results, 42% of respondents indicated that they are more apt to question potential partners about their physical health before having sex, and 51% reported that they are more likely to use condoms. On the flip side, 46% of respondents said that they are more likely to engage in sexual experimentation, and 19% reported that they are more likely to pursue an open relationship in the future.

But sex trends in the pandemic accounted for only one line of fruitful sexual-health research in 2021. Researchers were active on various fronts this past year. Here’s a look at four recent studies.

Sex and skin

Psoriasis is an uncomfortable condition, and it impacts quality of life in those who have it. In a recent study published in the Italian Journal of Dermatology and Venereology, Italian researchers examined the association between sexual dysfunction and psoriasis in 70 women with mild disease, 70 women with moderate-to-severe disease, and 70 healthy controls.  

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The researchers found that women under the age of 46 years who had psoriasis exhibited higher levels of sexual dysfunction. They did not find a relationship between genital localization of psoriasis and worsening of sexual health.

“Sexual dysfunction should be routinely investigated in female patients with psoriasis in the case of moderate-to-severe disease due to its negative impact on quality of life, especially in younger women and in presence of diabetes mellitus and hypertension,” they wrote.

Pornography and penetrative sex

The internet has made all media more accessible—including pornography. Based on survey results from 3,419 men, Danish researchers publishing in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance assessed the relationship between problematic pornography consumption and erectile dysfunction in men aged between 18 and 35 years.

In the sample, 21.5% of sexually active participants—defined as those who tried penetrative sex within the past 4 weeks—exhibited some degree of erectile dysfunction. The authors noted that these results were “alarmingly high” and ED was significantly correlated with levels of problem pornography consumption. Of note, masturbation did not seem to play a role in the results.

The researchers found that single men and men in a new relationship reported more ED than men in long-standing relationships did. Factors that play a role could include performance pressure, anxiety, and insecurity. Situational ED could also be moderated by men finding pornography more arousing than real sex. 

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The researchers found that homosexual men watched more pornography and had higher rates of ED. They also noted higher rates of ED in men who started watching pornography at a younger age.

Sexual health disparities

Little is known about how receiving or seeking sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information varies by sexual orientation. In a study published in Sexual Research & Social Policy, investigators surveyed a large cohort of US women aged between 22 and 35 years about receiving or seeking such information. 

“Most sexual minority subgroups were more likely to receive/seek information from peers, media, and other sources (eg, community centers),” the authors wrote. “With the exception of lesbians, sexual minority subgroups were more likely to receive/seek information about contraception, and mostly heterosexual and bisexual women were more likely to receive information about sexually transmitted infections.”

They added: “Findings indicate women of diverse sexual orientations need access to SRH information from sources like schools, peers, and media. Sexual minority women receive/seek information about many SRH topics, which indicates that opportunities to tailor educational resources within and outside of schools are needed so SRH benefits to these populations are maximized.”

Physicians can play a role in breaking down barriers to healthcare for people of diverse sexual and gender orientations, and it starts in the clinic. Read Do you have a transgender-friendly practice? on MDLinx.

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Sexual content and suicide

Few tragedies are more poignant than youth suicide. In a matched, case-control JAMA study, researchers investigated the link between online activities and youth suicide. They mined a sample of more than 2,600 US schools for 227 youths exhibiting severe suicide/self-harm alerts that required notification of the school.

Of note, severe suicide/self-harm alerts necessitated communication with school administrators and referred to statements by youths suggesting imminent or recent suicide attempts or self-harm. 

The eight potential online risk factors included cyberbullying, violence, drug-related content, hate speech, profanity, sexual content, depression, and low-severity self-harm. These variables were assessed via text, image, and video data. The investigators found that all eight factors were related to suicide/self-harm alerts. In those exposed to five or more risk factors, there was an exponential rise in risk of 70-times or greater.

In the study, adjusted odds ratios (aOR) ranged from 1.17 for drug-related content to 1.82 for depression-related content. For sexual content, the aOR was 1.19.

The authors made certain recommendations based on their results. 

“Improved early identification of individuals at risk of suicide has been a long-standing challenge and is a major focus of ongoing suicide prevention research,” they wrote. “Our findings suggest novel avenues for more timely and efficient assistance and youth suicide prevention efforts. Although there are important ethical and privacy considerations when using online, digital, or linked data, efforts to improve mental health using passive digital information or other administrative data are being researched, tested, and used. Conducted carefully and ethically, such approaches have the potential to help prevent devastating outcomes for families, such as youth suicide.”

Click here to read more about sexual health on MDLinx 

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