Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Amy B. Curtis


The theoretical concept of health includes the ability to function physiologically, perceive a state of wellness, participate in social relationships, and be disease-free. Currently, the medical field approaches sexuality from a disease prevention and treatment perspective. Female sexual health must be understood holistically (i.e., emotionally, sociologically, and physiologically) for healthcare providers to help their patients optimize their sexual health; however, little research has been conducted from a holistic perspective. This study's purpose was to begin an exploration of the meaning of female sexual health.

This study utilized focus groups and a survey to explore the concept female sexual health as self-reported by women. The attributes of female sexual health that emerged (156) from the dimensional analysis of the focus groups (n = 21) were collapsed into nine dimensions. These dimensions were incorporated into an instrument that was mailed to 1,000 female faculty and staff of a Midwestern university to determine potential correlations with self-reported female sexual health. The respondents were also asked to rank four of the most commonly examined dimensions, part of the author's FORD mnemonic: Frequency, Orgasm, Relationship, and Distress. Survey data (n = 240, 24% response rate) were analyzed using nonparametric statistical tests.

Of the nine dimensions discovered during the qualitative phase, survey results indicated that eight were positively correlated with self-reported female sexual health. The eight were authentic self, communication on a deep and intimate level, emotional health, frequency of sexual activity, presence of sexual pleasure, relationship health, absence of discomfort or distress, and sisterhood. Spearman's correlation coefficients, r s, for the eight dimensions and female sexual health ranged from .501, p < .0001 (authentic self) to .154, p = .019 (sisterhood). The average rank order for the FORD mnemonic dimensions from most to least important was relationship health, absence of distress, pleasure or orgasm, and libido or frequency of activity.

Information from this study should serve to educate healthcare providers about female sexual health. The dimensions to emerge from these analyses should undergo further testing; a rapid assessment device, such as the FORD mnemonic, should be developed that healthcare providers can use in their daily primary care practice.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access