What you need to know about female sexual dysfunction

Picture: iStock

Picture: iStock

Sexual problems often develop when you have an imbalance of your hormones, such as after having a baby or during menopause.

Sexual dysfunction in females is described as persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain that leads to distress and strain in your relationship with your partner.

Many women experience problems with sexual function at some point. Female sexual dysfunction can occur at any stage of life. It can be lifelong or be acquired later in life.

It can occur only in certain sexual situations or in all sexual situations. Sexual response involves physiology, emotions, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle and relationships. Disruption of any component can affect sexual desire, arousal or satisfaction, and treatment often involves more than one approach.

If you have ongoing sexual difficulties that distress you, make an appointment with your doctor. It is very important that you do that, even if you feel slightly embarrassed because a satisfying sex life is important to a woman’s well-being at every age.

Picture: iStock

Some factors may increase your risk of sexual dysfunction:

  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Heart and blood vessel disease
  • Neurological conditions, such as spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis.
  • Liver or kidney failure.
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants or high blood pressure medications.
  • Emotional or psychological stress, especially with regard to your relationship with your partner.
  • A history of sexual abuse.

Symptoms

Your symptoms will depend on the type of female sexual dysfunction you have:

Low sexual desire. This involves a lack of sexual interest or willingness to be sexual.

Sexual arousal disorder. Your desire for sex might be intact, but you are unable to become aroused or maintain arousal during sex.

Orgasmic disorder. You have persistent or recurrent difficulty in achieving orgasm after sufficient sexual arousal and ongoing stimulation.

Sexual pain disorder. You have pain associated with sexual stimulation or vaginal contact.

Picture: iStock

Causes

Sexual problems often develop when you have an imbalance of your hormones, such as after having a baby or during menopause.

Physical. Any number of medical conditions, including cancer, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and bladder problems, can lead to sexual dysfunction.

Certain medications, including some antidepressants, blood pressure medications, antihistamines and chemotherapy drugs, can decrease desire and ability to experience orgasm.

Hormonal. Lower oestrogen levels after menopause may lead to changes in your genital tissues and sexual responsiveness. A decrease in oestrogen leads to decreased blood flow to the pelvic region, which can result in needing more time to build arousal and reach orgasm, as well as less genital sensation.

The vaginal lining also becomes thinner and less elastic, particularly if you’re not sexually active. These factors can lead to painful intercourse.

Sexual desire also decreases when hormonal levels decrease. Your body’s hormone levels also shift after giving birth and during breast-feeding, which can lead to vaginal dryness and can affect your desire to have sex.

Psychological and social. Untreated anxiety or depression can cause or contribute to sexual dysfunction, as can long-term stress and a history of sexual abuse. The worries of pregnancy and demands of being a new mother may have similar effects.

Long-standing conflicts with your partner about sex or other aspects of your relationship can diminish your sexual responsiveness, as well.

Cultural and religious issues and problems with body image can contribute.

Menopause. Picture: iStock

Diagnosis

Your doctor will:

Discuss your sexual and medical history. The more forthcoming you can be about your sexual history and current problems, the better your chances.

Perform a pelvic exam. Your doctor checks for physical changes that affect your sexual enjoyment, such as thinning of your genital tissues, decreased skin elasticity, scarring or pain.

Treatment

Nonmedical treatments include:

  • Talk and listen. Open communication with your partner.
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits. Go easy on alcohol.
  • Be physically active.
  • Seek counselling.
  • Use a lubricant.

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