Female sexual dysfunction
Female sexual dysfunction
If you have persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response or desire — and if these problems are making you distressed or straining your relationship with your partner — what you're experiencing is known medically as female sexual dysfunction.
Female sexual dysfunction isn't uncommon — many women experience problems with sexual function at some point in their lives. Female sexual dysfunction can be a lifelong problem, or it can happen later in life after you've experienced a period of satisfactory functioning.
Female sexual dysfunction has many possible symptoms and causes. Fortunately, they're almost all treatable. Communicating your concerns and understanding your body and its normal response to sexual activity are important steps toward gaining sexual satisfaction.
You can develop female sexual dysfunction at any age, but sexual problems often happen when your hormones are in flux — for example, after having a baby or during menopause. Sexual concerns may also occur with major illness, such as cancer or cardiovascular disease.
Your problems might be classified as female sexual dysfunction if you experience one or more of the following and you're distressed about it:
When to see a doctor
Several factors may contribute to sexual dissatisfaction or dysfunction. These factors tend to be interrelated.
Some factors may increase your risk of sexual dysfunction:
Preparing for your appointment
If you're experiencing ongoing sexual difficulties, such as low desire or lack of arousal, and it's causing you distress, make an appointment with your doctor. You may feel embarrassed to talk about sex with your doctor, but this topic is perfectly appropriate. Your doctor knows that a satisfying sex life is very important to a woman's well-being at every age and stage of life.
You may have a treatable, underlying condition, or your may benefit from lifestyle changes, therapy or a combination of treatments. Your regular doctor may diagnose and treat the problem or refer you to a specialist who can.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
Information to gather in advance
Basic questions to ask your doctor
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
You might be reluctant to consult your doctor about sexual concerns, but your sexuality is integral to your well-being — and it's standard practice during general medical visits for doctors to ask about sexual health. The more forthcoming you can be about your sexual history and current problems, the better your chances of finding an effective approach to treating them.
You may need a pelvic exam, during which your doctor will check for any physical changes that may be diminishing your sexual enjoyment, such as thinning of your genital tissues, decreased skin elasticity, scarring or pain.
Your doctor may also refer you to a counselor or therapist specializing in sexual and relationship problems.
Female sexual dysfunction often is divided into the following categories, which are not mutually exclusive:
Sexual response is a complex interaction of many components, including physiology, emotions, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle and relationships. If any one of these components is disrupted, sexual drive, arousal or satisfaction may be affected.
Treatments and drugs
Women with sexual concerns most often benefit from a combined treatment approach that addresses medical as well as emotional issues. Occasionally, there's a specific medical solution — using vaginal estrogen therapy, for example, or switching from one antidepressant medication to another. More often, behavioral treatments — such as couples therapy and stress management — are needed to address the cause of female sexual dysfunction. And sometimes, a combination approach works best.
Nonmedical treatment for female sexual dysfunction
Medical treatment for female sexual dysfunction
Treating female sexual dysfunction tied to an underlying medical condition might include:
Treating female sexual dysfunction linked to a hormonal cause might include:
Hormonal therapies won't resolve sexual problems that have causes unrelated to hormones. Because the issues surrounding female sexual dysfunction are usually complex and multifaceted, even the best medications are unlikely to work if other emotional or social factors remain unresolved.
Other possible medical treatments
More research is needed, but promising alternatives to traditional therapies for improving sexual satisfaction include these Eastern approaches:
Coping and support
At each stage of your life, you may experience changes in sexual desire, arousal and satisfaction. Accepting these changes and exploring new aspects of your sexuality during times of transition contribute to positive sexual experiences.
Understanding your body and what makes for a healthy sexual response can help, too. The more you and your partner know about the physical aspects of your body and how it functions, the better able you'll be to find ways to ease sexual difficulties. Ask your doctor about how things like aging, illnesses, pregnancy, menopause and medicines might affect your sex life.
Sexual response often has as much to do with your feelings for your partner as it does with physical sexual stimuli. For women, emotional intimacy tends to be an essential prelude to sexual intimacy. Show affection and communicate openly with your partner about your feelings — it can help you reconnect and discover each other again.
To learn more about your body and how to communicate with your partner, check out these books:
Last Updated: 2010-04-24
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