What is sexual dysfunction?
Sexual dysfunction refers to a problem during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevents the individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from the sexual activity. The sexual response cycle has four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. While research suggests that sexual dysfunction is common (43% of women and 31% of men report some degree of difficulty), it is a topic that many people are hesitant or embarrassed to discuss. Fortunately, most cases of sexual dysfunction are treatable, so it is important to share your concerns with your partner and doctor.
Factors that contribute to Sexual Dysfunction in Females
- Physical. Any number of medical conditions, including cancer, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and bladder problems, can lead to sexual dysfunction. Certain medications, including some antidepressants, blood pressure medications, antihistamines and chemotherapy drugs, can decrease your sexual desire and your body’s ability to experience orgasm.
- Hormonal. Lower estrogen levels after menopause may lead to changes in your genital tissues and sexual responsiveness. A decrease in estrogen leads to decreased blood flow to the pelvic region, which can result in less genital sensation, as well as needing more time to build arousal and reach orgasm.The vaginal lining also becomes thinner and less elastic, particularly if you’re not sexually active. These factors can lead to painful intercourse (dyspareunia). Sexual desire also decreases when hormonal levels decrease.Your body’s hormone levels also shift after giving birth and during breast-feeding, which can lead to vaginal dryness and can affect your desire to have sex.
- Psychological and social. Untreated anxiety or depression can cause or contribute to sexual dysfunction, as can long-term stress and a history of sexual abuse. The worries of pregnancy and demands of being a new mother may have similar effects.
What are some ways that this problem can affect females?
- Inhibited sexual desire. This involves a lack of sexual desire or interest in sex. Many factors can contribute to a lack of desire, including hormonal changes, medical conditions and treatments (for example, cancer and chemotherapy), depression, pregnancy, stress, and fatigue. Boredom with regular sexual routines also may contribute to a lack of enthusiasm for sex, as can lifestyle factors, such as careers and the care of children.
- Inability to become aroused. For women, the inability to become physically aroused during sexual activity often involves insufficient vaginal lubrication. This inability also may be related to anxiety or inadequate stimulation. In addition, researchers are investigating how blood flow problems affecting the vagina and clitoris may contribute to arousal problems.
- Lack of orgasm (anorgasmia). This is the absence of sexual climax (orgasm). It can be caused by a woman’s sexual inhibition, inexperience, lack of knowledge, and psychological factors such as guilt, anxiety, or a past sexual trauma or abuse. Other factors contributing to anorgasmia include insufficient stimulation, certain medications, and chronic diseases.
- Painful intercourse. Pain during intercourse can be caused by a number of problems, including endometriosis, a pelvic mass, ovarian cysts, vaginitis, poor lubrication, the presence of scar tissue from surgery, or a sexually transmitted disease. A condition called vaginismus is a painful, involuntary spasm of the muscles that surround the vaginal entrance. It may occur in women who fear that penetration will be painful and also may stem from a sexual phobia or from a previous traumatic or painful experience.
- Providing education
- Enhancing stimulation
- Providing distraction techniques
- Encouraging non-coital behaviors
- Minimizing pain