Female Sexual Dysfunction: Talk About It and Get Help

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From Women’s Health Foundation

Some people still believe that sex tends to be a physical experience for men and more of a mental or emotional experience for women. As a result, when women experience problems with sex, they may be asked about their state of mind. 

The truth, however, is that sex is a physical experience for women as well as men, and the reasons behind female sexual dysfunction (FSD) can just as often be attributed to physical issues as psychological problems.

If you are a woman whose sex life has lost its spark because your body feels unresponsive or sex is painful, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone: Approximately 4 out of 10 women will experience FSD at some point in their life. The good news is that once the cause is diagnosed, the problem is often easily remedied.

Although FSD can occur at any age, it often presents at times when the body’s hormones are in flux, such as during pregnancy or menopause. Sexual problems can also occur alongside major illnesses, including cancer.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Low or absent desire for sex (low or no libido)
  • Problems maintaining arousal during sexual activity, or lack of arousal despite a desire to have sex
  • Inability to experience or difficulty experiencing orgasm
  • Pain during sexual contact

Influences and Causes

A host of causes can contribute to female sexual dysfunction. Some of them are interrelated and may join forces in triggering FSD.

Physical factors

Many different physical conditions can contribute to FSD, including arthritis, diabetes, urinary or bowel difficulties, pelvic surgery, fatigue, headaches or neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.¹ 

Hormonal factors

Female sexual dysfunction is often linked to hormonal fluctuations, such as declining estrogen levels during menopause or the myriad hormonal changes your body experiences during pregnancy.

Medications

Many medications can affect sexual function, including certain antidepressants, antihistamines, drugs for high blood pressure, opiate painkillers and chemotherapy drugs.

Psychological and social factors

Psychological factors such as untreated anxiety, depression, emotional distress or long-term stress may impair sexual function or libido. The worries associated with pregnancy and/or the demands of being a new mother may have similar effects. Other triggers can include longstanding conflicts with your partner about sex or any other aspect of your relationship, cultural and religious issues, or poor body image.

Treatments and Remedies

You may be reluctant to talk with your health care professional about problems in the bedroom, but find the courage to do it. A healthy sex life is integral to your well-being, and health care professionals treat sexual dysfunction like any other health condition. The more open you are about your sexual history and your current problems, the better your chances of finding effective treatment.

It is also crucial to have honest and open communication with your partner about your sexual needs or concerns. Although many couples never talk about sex, doing so can make a world of difference in your relationship and your sex life.

Treatments for female sexual dysfunction include a combination of nonmedical and medical approaches designed to address your mental and physical well-being.

Non-medical approaches include:²,³

  • Practicing open and honest communication with your partner about your sexual needs, desires and dislikes
  • Using a lubricant and/or taking a warm bath before sex
  • Having sex in a different position (you may do better on top)
  • Lifestyle changes such as avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, getting more exercise and quitting smoking
  • Talking with a counselor or therapist who specializes in sexual and/or relationship problems
  • Learning and practicing pelvic floor exercises to help strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor
  • Various treatments for pelvic pain if such pain is contributing to your problem

Medical approaches include:

  • Estrogen therapy
  • Testosterone therapy (this is controversial)
  • Treatment for depression or anxiety
  • Treatment for any medical condition that may be contributing to your sexual dysfunction¹ 
  • Changing a medication that may be causing the problem

Talking about your sexual dysfunction is the first step in getting help for this stigmatized yet common disorder.  You have the right to an enjoyable sex life.

References

¹ What is female sexual dysfunction? Harvard Health Publications.
http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/What_is_female_sexual_dysfunction.htm

² Sexual Dysfunction (Women). FamilyDoctor.Org.
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/sexual-dysfunction-women.printerview.all.html

³ Female Sexual Dysfunction: Treatment and drugs. Mayo Clinic
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/female-sexual-dysfunction/DS00701/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

Resources/Contacts

American Academy of Family Physicians
Harvard Health Publications
Cleveland Clinic
WebMD

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Women's sexual problems are too often discounted as mental or emotional. Talk to your health care professional to get the help you need and deserve.

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Women's sexual problems are too often discounted as mental or emotional. Talk to your health care professional to get the help you need and deserve.

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