There’s a good chance women with low heart rate variability (HRV) also suffer from sexual dysfunction, says a new study from the University of Texas at Austin.

The American Heart Association explains HRV is the amount of time between one heartbeat and the next. Any changes to this time can predict poor health, and some studies show low HRV is associated with higher risk of death in patients with heart disease. Since sexual arousal has to do with blood pressure, it’s not surprising HRV could impact sexual function.

The present study analyzes data collected from 72 women aged 18 to 39 who participated in previous experiments by UT-Austin. These experiments measured HRV and sexual function as women watched a neutral and erotic film clip, in that order. Sexual function means physiological arousal and overall function, which refers to lubrication, pain, and satisfaction.

Like men, as separate research shows there’s a link between HRV and erectile dysfunction, researchers found women with below average HRV were significantly more likely to report sexual arousal and overall sexual dysfunction compared to women with greater HRV.

"Our study indicated that low [HRV] might place women at risk for sexual arousal problems and overall sexual difficulties," said Dr. Amelia Stanton, study author and clinical psychologist at UT-Austin, in a press release. "Given that low resting [HRV] has been associated with depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence, it is not surprising that it may also predict female sexual dysfunction."

Stanton added monitoring HRV in the future “could be a cost-effective, easy to administer, and non-intrusive index that clinicians can use to assess potential sexual dysfunction.” It may also be valuable in treating women with established sexual dysfunction and heart problems.

Female sexual dysfunction is marked by low sexual desire, an inability to get aroused, lack of orgasm, and/or painful intercourse. Though a 2008 study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found about four out of every 10 women experience dysfunction, many women are reluctant to say so.

The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) believes this has to do with the communication gap resulting from “formal medical sexual training for health care providers in the assessment and management of female sexuality and sexual dysfunction.” There are also persistent myths, such as “asking about sexual health is akin to opening Pandora’s Box" or there are no effective treatments for women (wrong and wrong).

“The myth that there are no effective treatments available for female sexual dysfunction is pervasive… a number of disorders, such as vaginal atrophy [dryness], can be effectively treated,” ARHP said.

Source: Stanton, A.M. et al. Heart Rate Variability: A Risk Factor for Female Sexual Dysfunction. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 2015.