Have you ever found that you just don’t want or don’t like sex and wondered if there’s something wrong with you?
Sexual dysfunction is when some problem or issue occurs during any phase of sexual interaction that prevents the individual (or couple) from experiencing satisfaction from sexual activity. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, sexual problems are more prevalent for women than men. However, Everyday Health points out, “male sexual problems have become more socially acceptable to discuss with a doctor in ways that female sexual dysfunction has not.” This means that while more women than men experience sexual dysfunction, women often don’t discuss it with their doctors because they think it’s just the way they are and don’t know their issue could be a sign of something greater.
So what are the signs of sexual dysfunction in women?
What is it? Vaginal dryness – or inadequate lubrication – can result from a number of factors. Anything from insufficient foreplay to anxiety to hormonal changes to aging and menopause can cause vaginal dryness. And vaginal dryness can often lead to painful intercourse.
What can I do about it? In this case, an over the counter lubricant is a decent option. It’s the quickest and easiest way to solve the problem and should be used both before and during intercourse. However, other factors can help cure vaginal dryness as well. More (and better!) foreplay can help alleviate vaginal dryness. Talking to your provider can help as well – it’s possible that your vaginal dryness is caused, as mentioned above, by a hormonal imbalance or change or some other medical factor.
2. Distressing Low Desire
What is it? Put simply, this is a lack of interest or desire for sexual activity. One in 10 women have distressing low desire or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD).1 But where it comes from is much trickier. Low desire can emerge from any number of root causes, including anxiety, stress, lack of foreplay, certain common medications and/or depression. It can also have to do with other issues. For example, a woman can have low self-esteem and not view herself as a sexualbeing. Or, she can come from a society or background where discussing sex openly can be viewed as negative or taboo. Or, there can be a history of sexual trauma or violence. Sometimes it can even be a combination of all of these.
What can I do about it? Talk to your healthcare provider. The best way to solve the problem of low desire is to figure out the underlying cause(s) – and in this case, your provider can be a great help. They will ask you questions, run tests, and try to get to the bottom of what’s causing your lack of desire. They may recommend a prescription to help, they may send you to another doctor, or they may even suggest seeing a behavioral therapist or sex therapist. But whatever the reason for your lack of desire, talking to a healthcare provider is the best way to begin figuring out the root cause. To learn more about HSDD, click here.
3. Painful Sex
What is it? As many as 30% of women report pain during sex. Pain during sex can be caused by a variety of things. Vaginal dryness is one cause. Or maybe it’s a more serious medical issue such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis. It may also have to do with the inability to relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow intercourse which can occur from either a lack of arousal/desire or from vaginismus (when the vaginal muscles involuntarily tighten during penetration). If this pain is new it may be due to a less permanent condition, such as a yeast infection or recently having gone through childbirth and breastfeeding.
What can I do about it? Whatever the reason for your pain, if more (or better) foreplay doesn’t help, and if lubricant doesn’t help it either, then you definitely want to talk to your healthcare provider about this one. Pain during sex can be an indication of something serious so you definitely want to make sure that you’re consulting a medical professional. They can offer solutions to your pain that include anything from medication to surgery to therapy – and everything in between.
4. Arousal Problems
What is it? Now, you may be thinking that this is the same thing as low desire, but it actually differs slightly. The thing about arousal problems is that you can desire sex but still have trouble getting aroused. This can be caused by things like anxiety, stress, hormonal changes and/or inadequate stimulation. If you experience pain or vaginal dryness during sex, it can also become harder to be turned on because you’ll be anticipating a painful experience. Menopause and other hormonal changes can also decrease your arousal.
What can I do about it? Once again, consult your provider. They will ask you a bunch of questions, run some tests, and see if they can’t figure out the underlying cause. Sometimes the issue is physical and sometimes it’s psychological. Sometimes it’s both. Your provider will work with you to come up with a treatment plan that’s right.
5. Trouble Reaching Orgasm
What is it? Trouble reaching orgasm can mean that it just takes a really long time to get there or that you simply can’t achieve one at all. It can be caused by both physical and psychological issues. Sometimes it takes a long time to achieve orgasm, and you may start to feel bad or your partner becomes impatient. Additionally, if you know that you’re going to struggle to achieve orgasm because you struggled the last time (and many times before that) it can make it hard to achieve because you’re expecting to fail. Trouble reaching orgasm can also come from sexual inhibition, inexperience, guilt, anxiety, stress, or past sexual trauma. It can also be a physical reason such as insufficient foreplay, certain medications, a medical condition, pain during sex, etc.
What can I do about it? Start by consulting a medical professional. They can help you determine the underlying medical cause or issue and can outline a treatment plan. However, they may also rule out an underlying medical cause and find a psychological one. If this is the case, it may be best to seek treatment from a therapist to determine why you feel guilt or shame or whatever it is you are feeling during or about sexual intercourse. If it turns out that the issue is just lack of experience or that you don’t know your own body then take some time to explore – with or without your partner.
What Can Women Do If They’re Experiencing Sexual Dysfunction?
No matter where you may fall, the best place to start addressing your sexual dysfunction is to consult a healthcare professional. They should be able to pinpoint the underlying cause and can work with you to come up with an appropriate treatment plan. And if you’re worried, or nervous, or embarrassed about discussing this with them – don’t be! Remember, it’s common. And the best way to work toward a solution is to talk about it. If you don’t feel like your healthcare provider is taking your concerns seriously, you may also want to consider consulting with another one.
- Shifren JL, Monz BU, Russo PA, et al. Sexual problems and distress in United States women: prevalence and correlates. Obstet Gynecol. 2008;112(5):970-8.