This month we talk with Mary Ojo-Carons, MD, about the future of women's sexual health. She advocates for more healthcare professional education to proactively address female sexual dysfunction, and shares her passion for new innovations advancing women's sexual and reproductive health.
Dr. Mary Ojo-Carons is a board-certified physician and surgeon with 11+ years of experience delivering exceptional medical care, advocating for women’s health, conducting research, and presenting medical findings. She is a strong communicator with a compelling passion to educate and inspire decision makers to prioritize recommendations from medical experts and front-line healthcare providers, so we can markedly improve the future of healthcare delivery and access. Dr. Ojo-Carons is a trusted source to colleagues and patients. She holds a clear vision for merging current healthcare systems with innovative technology to evolve the way we think about women’s health.
SHWI: How did you become interested in women’s sexual health, gynecology and surgery?
Dr. Mary Ojo-Carons: Women are the backbone of the family, community, and society. I became interested in women’s health and caring for women because as a woman, I understand the toll this level of responsibility can take on our health. Although we are an integral part of society, our needs are often dismissed or diminished. This is especially true when considering our sexual health. We were not created just for procreation. The medical community has long agreed that sexual health is important to an adult’s emotional and physical well-being. This fact is readily implied in the care for men but is often excluded when considering women. Sexuality is more than satisfaction. It is wellness, it is wellbeing, it is the human experience. Stress, cancer, chronic disease, mental health issues, and more can all impact this experience. To treat the whole woman, it is important that discussing her understanding of her sexual health be a priority.
SHWI: What are the most important areas in sexual dysfunction that you would like to see addressed in the wider gynecological community?
The diagnosis of sexual dysfunction is not a monolith. There are multiple layers, aspects, and reasons for sexual dysfunction. What I would like the wider gynecological community to address is that it is common, can change with age/phase of life, and can be managed. Sexual dysfunction should not be stigmatized, and the conversation should not be avoided. Instead, we as a community of women’s health professionals should normalize the discussion about sex, sexual health, sexual dysfunction, and sexuality. It should be a standard part of our education during residency and training.
SHWI: As an advocate for women’s health, you have a vision for merging healthcare systems with innovative technology to evolve the way we think about women’s health. What are some of the challenges you see and what are the ways you think these challenges can be addressed? Where do you see the future of women’s health evolving?
Diversity of thought, awareness, and introduction of new ways of doing things. There are many innovations in medicine and science. I often feel there is a resistance to change in women’s health. For example, it took many years for Robotic Surgery to be embraced as a standard way to complete gynecological surgery. Likewise, we have had few innovations in the equipment we use. The speculum and other instruments we use to visualize the vagina/cervix have undergone few changes over the years. In addition, social media outlets often reject or remove posts or ads presenting topics about women’s healthcare/sexual health. But things are evolving and changing because women are now advocating for more awareness and better care.
Luckily, there are individuals recognizing there may be ways to get our work accomplished using better techniques and instruments. Companies like Hologic are introducing better versions of procedures like Acessa and offering women more options for management of fibroids. Women in tech, like Kristina Cahoj at KEGG are pushing back and demanding that providing information about women’s healthcare be prioritized.
SHWI: What do you believe is some of the most important recent research that has been done in the last five years in support of women's sexual and reproductive health?
Sadly, research in support of women’s sexual health is drastically lacking. There are currently only two FDA approved medications to address sexual dysfunction in women. One of these two medications came to market in the last five years. The parameters for use and insurance coverage of both medications are extremely limited. In fact, because of the potential for adverse side effects, a consent form must be signed by practitioners and patients prior to prescribing the oldest of the two medications. In addition, both medications are indicated for premenopausal women, not the postmenopausal demographic which has most of the issues with libido. To juxtapose this desert in the research and development of medications addressing sexual health in women to the oasis of R&D for men’s sexual health is upsetting.
Fortunately, research focusing on female reproductive health is active and flourishing. There are a lot of great new studies on preeclampsia and hypertension in pregnancy that I have been reading. ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recently published a study that shows it affects up to 8% of pregnancies worldwide and kills tens of thousands of women each year. The presence of the disease in pregnancy also increases a woman’s lifelong cardio-vascular risks of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. Understanding preeclampsia’s prevalence and having more insight on how to prevent and manage the disease is of utmost importance.