HIV update - 21st August 2019

Sexual problems in women

Many of the studies of sexual satisfaction and sexual problems in people living with HIV have focused on men. A new British study focuses on women between the ages of 45 and 60, taking a particular interest in sexual issues after the menopause.

The researchers wanted to compare the experiences of HIV-negative and HIV-positive women, so compared data from two different surveys, of 1228 HIV-negative and 386 HIV-positive women. All were sexually active, almost all with men, and 85% were in an ongoing relationship.

The questionnaire covered specific sexual problems, issues with a partner (including feeling emotionally close during sex and sharing sexual likes and dislikes), self-appraisal of sexual satisfaction, and whether they had sought help/advice about their sex life.

The researchers found that 45% of HIV-positive women, but only 23% of HIV-negative participants, had low sexual function.

The most common sexual problems reported by women with HIV were lack of interest in sex (48%), lack of enjoyment (32%) and no orgasm or delayed orgasm (31%).

Each specific problem was more commonly reported by women with HIV than HIV-negative women. In particular, women with HIV were especially likely to report lack of excitement or arousal (29% vs 13% in women without HIV) and anxiety (16% vs 4% in women without HIV).

For women living with HIV – but not for other women – sexual function got worse after the menopause. Over half (53%) of post-menopausal women had low sexual function, compared to 38% of pre-menopausal women.

It’s worth noting that although the two surveys used the same questions, women were recruited in different ways and there were some important differences between the two samples (for example, the ethnic profile). This could also have an impact on the differences seen.

The researchers say that doctors should regularly ask their patients – including women of all ages – about sexual satisfaction and sexual problems.

For more information, read NAM's page Sexual dysfunction.

Cancer in older people

Outcomes for some common cancers are significantly poorer among people with HIV over the age of 65 compared to HIV-negative people of the same age, according to a large American study.

The four cancers covered by the study were bowel, prostate, breast and lung. While rates of the first three cancers are no higher in people with HIV than in the general population, they remain very common cancers across the population, including amongst people living with HIV.

Although everyone included in the study received appropriate treatment for their cancer soon after it was diagnosed, people with HIV had an increased risk of cancer relapse and death. The researchers believe that the differences in the effectiveness of treatment are probably a result of immune suppression in people with HIV. This appears to affect all types of cancers, not just the ones caused by viral infections that are more common in people with HIV than other people.

For more information, read NAM's page Cancer and HIV.

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This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.