Beyond Desire: Forms of Sexual Dysfunction

Around 4 in 10 women experience problems with sex at some point in their lives. Sexual dysfunction may occur during any of the physical and emotional changes the body goes through during sexual stimulation. The female sexual response cycle is complex, including emotional intimacy, stimulation, arousal, desire, and emotional and physical satisfaction.

Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction

Many physical, psychological, interpersonal, and cultural factors can cause problems with sexual function. The physical factors include medical conditions such as diabetes, heart, and blood vessel disease, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalances, kidney or liver failure, alcoholism, and drug abuse. In addition, medications, including some antidepressant drugs, can affect sexual function.

Couple in bed. Woman looks on with frustration, sexual dysfunction

Some psychological factors include depression, anxiety, stress, a history of drug/alcohol abuse, and physical and/or sexual trauma. Interpersonal factors involve concerns about body image or sexual performance, relationship issues, and lack of privacy. Cultural factors may involve inadequate education, societal taboo, and conflict with personal, family, or religious values.

Sexual Dysfunction Disorders

Sexual dysfunction disorders cause distress in your life. Female sexual dysfunction can present in various ways, including difficulty with arousal, desire, orgasm, and pain. Women often experience a significant overlap of issues. For example, women may not desire sex if their past interactions have been painful.

Female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD) is defined by a persistent or recurrent inability to attain, or maintain, adequate lubrication and swelling related to sexual excitement until completion of the sexual activity,

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) involves the absence of erotic thoughts and desires that results in disinterest in sexual activity.

The condition anorgasmia is characterized by an inability to reach orgasm within a desired amount of time. Some individuals with anorgasmia are unable to climax at all. Their bodies become aroused, but no orgasm occurs.

Some conditions of sexual dysfunction occur from pain, such as dyspareunia and vaginismus.

      • Dyspareunia-involves recurrent or persistent pain that occurs just before, during, or after intercourse.
      • Vaginismus is characterized by the involuntary contraction of the pelvic floor muscles during attempted vaginal penetration causing a woman’s vagina to become narrower and tighter. Women with vaginismus often have trouble with any type of vaginal penetration. When penetration is achieved, it is usually quite painful and causes great anxiety.

Treatment and Beyond

Sexual dysfunction can cause distress personally and in your relationships. Female sexual dysfunction has many possible symptoms and causes. Therefore, treatments will vary. Understanding your body and its typical sexual response will help you communicate your concerns to your healthcare provider. A board-certified gynecologist specializing in women’s sexual health can assist you in creating an individualized treatment plan.

Treating female sexual dysfunction typically requires a combined approach that addresses the multiple underlying factors.

Nonmedical strategies:

  • Talk therapy as an individual, as a couple, or both.
  • Adopting a healthier lifestyle: Limiting alcohol, being physically active, and learning ways to reduce stress.
  • Using lubrication or a device to enhance sexual stimulation and experience.

Medical treatments include:

  • Estrogen therapy
  • Androgen therapy
  • Medications:
  • Osphena- Helps reduce pain during sex for women with vulvovaginal atrophy.
  • Addyi- Treats low sexual desire.
  • Vyleesi- Is injected right before sexual activity to treat low sexual desire.

While current options are available, scientists and researchers continue to create and investigate possible alternatives. More work is necessary to adequately encompass the multifaceted variations of sexual dysfunction and the unique diversity of women it affects.

Research helps us improve treatment options for women's health conditions

Potential new options for sexual dysfunction are currently being evaluated in clinical research studies. To learn more about the sexual dysfunction studies enrolling soon here at Seattle Clinical Research Center, call (206) 522-3330 or add your name to our list to contact here.