Pelvic pain is becoming a major issue for women around the age of 38, a University of Otago study shows.
The university's Multidisciplinary Health and Development study found that half of the 429 woman aged 38 when surveyed reported having period pain and painful sex in the previous 12 months.
"The findings confirm a high prevalence of pelvic pain in women and, in particular, period pain was still very common among 38-year-olds at 46 per cent," said lead author of the study, Dr Antoinette Righarts.
However, the study also found pregnancy and childbirth appeared to protect women from pain with sex and other pelvic pain. Although there was no long-term benefit for preventing period pain.
Senior author and clinical lead on the study, Professor Wayne Gillett, said the researchers were not able to identify any long-term negative consequences, following pregnancy and childbirth, from pelvic pain - especially period pain.
The study findings provide reassurance to women who have had, or are considering having children, Gillett said.
The researchers found that a diagnosis of endometriosis, which is a condition where the layer of tissue that normally covers the inside of the uterus grows on the outside, was associated with the pain.
But endometriosis was not associated with the pain that young women can get when they have their first period, primary dysmenorrhoea.
Primary dysmenorrhoea did not adversely affect a woman's subsequent fertility, Gillett said.
"Current clinical practices for young women with dysmenorrhoea are to encourage an early diagnosis of endometriosis, however it seems there is no evidence that this is beneficial."
Righarts said the research was significant because as it was a part of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study – a longitudinal study following the lives of 1037 babies born between April 1 1972 and March 31 1973 at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin.
"It is relatively free from the selection and participating biases that can affect health surveys.
"This is because women did not participate in the study because they had a particular interest in pelvic pain - the study of sexual and reproductive health was just one of many areas investigated as part of the wider Dunedin study."
Righarts called for further study into the complex pelvic pain condition the study in order to elucidate the causes.