The one part of our lives meant to be pleasurable, fun, and exciting is sex. For many of us it usually is but sometimes for women, there can be sexual trouble brewing that gets in the way of enjoyment for her and her partner. There can be certain sexual symptoms that if not addressed can turn into serious problems disrupting a healthy sexual relationship.
These symptoms are often referred to as female sexual dysfunction. Female sexual dysfunction is when it is persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm, or pain. It is not unusual for many women to experience problems with sexual function at some point in their lives – research suggests between 40-50% of women do. This problem can begin early in life or acquired much later but it will involve a complex interplay of physiology, emotions, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle, and relationships known as the sexual response. Depending on which component(s) are involved will determine how it is treated and how it affects a woman’s sexual desire, arousal, or satisfaction.
Female sexual dysfunction can be categorized in various ways each having their own unique reason for why the dysfunction is occurring:
Issues with sexual desire
In order for either a man or woman to want to engage in sex, there must be some sort of sexual desire to do so. When a woman is having problems feeling any sort of desire in having sex, it is considered a sexual dysfunction. This issue could be due to past negative experiences of a sexual encounter, a woman who no longer as interested in sex as she ages, or even a woman who has never experienced sexual desire or is considered asexual.
Aversion towards sex
Some women will have a complete aversion or a strong distaste of wanting to have anything to do with sex. Most likely a past experience has negatively shaped a woman’s perception of what a healthy, loving sexual relationship should be like. This can make her almost afraid of any sexual encounters or cause her extreme anxiety of being involved or around sexual interactions.
Does not enjoy sex
There are women who will have sex and who even can become physically aroused along with having an orgasm during the act. But, ask them if they enjoy or look forward to sex, their response will be “no.” They most likely never initiate sex with their partner and would be perfectly content if they led a sexless life.
Issues with sexual response
Part of enjoying sex is being able to physically respond to it. For women this means becoming physically aroused, having sufficient blood flow to the vaginal area, or for many, having sufficient lubrication to prevent vaginal dryness. Many of these issues can become common particularly after menopause but they also can occur at any age.
Not being able to have an orgasm
A woman can be physically aroused, ready, and willing to have sex, yet if orgasm rarely if ever happens for her, this can put a damper on her looking forward or wanting to have sex. The ability to achieve an orgasm for women is an issue many have. The majority of women do not have an orgasm from sexual penetration alone – most women will require stimulation to the clitoris.
Vaginismus is when a woman has involuntary tightness of the vagina during attempted intercourse. This condition not only makes sexual intercourse painful if not impossible but also does the same if a woman has a gynecological exam or attempts to put in a tampon. The tightness is actually due to the involuntary contractions of the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the vagina.
Help for female sexual dysfunction
Any woman who is experiencing any of the above female sexual dysfunctions needs to seek help in getting a diagnosis, the cause, and what treatment there is for it.
Many women with this dysfunction are treated by sex therapists and other behavioral health providers. This does not mean this condition is a mental health problem but rather that in order to effectively treat it, behavioral techniques have been found to be very beneficial.
Counseling with a therapist who specializes in relationships and sexual problems can be very helpful. Learning to communicate more effectively with their partner can deepen intimacy and help their partner understand how to help her.
Besides treating female sexual dysfunction by behavioral techniques, for some women, medical treatments will be more appropriate. For example, for women who have gone through menopause and are experiencing vaginal dryness, topical estrogen may need to be prescribed and can help enormously.
Sometimes devices, including vaginal dilators to open tightened muscles, vibrators to aid stimulation, and a clitoral vacuum device (Eros) to increase blood flow and promote engorgement, can help with enhancing intimacy.
Sometimes it is found that certain medications a woman may be on might be the root of the problem. Antidepressants can lower sexual desire or arousal so adjusting the dose, can lead to a more satisfying sex life. Even physical therapy can be very helpful as it can address mobility limitations a woman may have affected her sexual response.
No matter which forms of female sexual dysfunction a woman may have, help is out there for her ready to turn her sex life from unenjoyable to a more pleasurable, erotic, and satisfying she deserves.
A woman’s healthcare provider will tailor treatment based on a woman’s needs. Being open and honest about symptoms can help women reach their goals. Discussing how her body responds and whether or not treatment is improving the situation, will help the provider understand better on what is working or not.