In many cases, men readily come to mind when talking about issues revolving around sexual performance, responsiveness and satisfaction. The reality however is that these are issues that affect females as well. Granted that the sexual responsiveness of a woman may not be on par with that of a man, sexual dysfunction is still a big issue regardless. A significant number of women complain frequently about one form or the other. What really is female sexual dysfunction? And what can be done to overcome it?
Understanding female sexual dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction is a physical or psychological challenge that makes it hard for an individual or their partner to derive pleasure or satisfaction from sexual activity. More focus on this problem has been more on as it affects men that it does women. Female sexual dysfunction is less understood due to lower number of studies that have been done on it since it is thought to be rather complicated. Men are typically unable to engage in intercourse when suffering from this problem while women may still be able do so, even though there may be lack of interest in or satisfaction from the activity.
Female sexual dysfunction describes recurrent or persistent problems in stages of sexual response cycle. It could arise as a result of problem with any of the following stages:
- Desire or libido
It is worthy of note that not all problems affecting one or more of these stages can be considered dysfunctional. Experts say such problems need to cause you emotional stress or a strain in your relationship for that term to be applicable. Female sexual dysfunction can arise at any stage of a woman’s life, but it is more likely to occur in older women. It is progressive. Estimate from a 1999 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association put the number of American women affected by sexual dysfunction at about 43 percent.
What are the causes?
As in the case of male sexual dysfunction, sexual dysfunction in women may also be brought about by physical, psychological or hormonal factors.
Physical factors – Some physical changes or medical conditions may expose you to experiencing female sexual dysfunction. These include kidney failure, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, peripheral arterial disease, adrenal insufficiency, sickle cell anemia, cancer, diabetes and hypothyroidism. Localized disorders, such as cystitis, vaginitis, and vaginal yeast infections, and autoimmune disorders have also been associated to the problem. Antidepressants, antihistamines, chemotherapy drugs and some other medications may interfere with sexual function and your ability to experience orgasm.
Hormonal factors – The changes in hormone levels that are experienced as women grow older contribute to sexual dysfunction. Decreased estrogen leads to a drop in the supply of blood to the pelvic region and interferes with sexual responsiveness. Hormonal changes also occur after childbirth and during breastfeeding. These can lead to vaginal dryness, pain and reduction in desire for sex.
Psychological factors – Long-term stress, untreated anxiety or depression, cultural and religious beliefs, and past sexual trauma have all been identified as possible causes of sexual dysfunction in women. Challenges in a relationship could also impact on satisfaction from sexual activity, just as demands of work and family.
Types of female sexual dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction in women presents itself in diverse forms, as is the case in men. Similarly, it is classified into four main categories:
- Sexual desire disorder
- Sexual arousal disorder
- Orgasm disorder
- Sexual pain disorder
Sexual desire disorder – This is when a woman does not have any interest in sex. Sexual desire disorder is commonly described as low libido or lack of sex drive. It may arise after a period of normal sexual function or may have always been present. This is associated to low estrogen levels, depression, pregnancy, and anxiety among several other factors.
Sexual arousal disorder – This is a sexual problem whereby a woman has desire for sex but is not able to become adequately aroused to enable enjoyable sexual activity. Sexual arousal issue in women has been described using the term “frigidity.” A woman with this problem may not be knowledgeable about sexual arousal techniques or may be afraid of sexual contact with another person. The vagina may also not become well-lubricated.
Orgasm disorder – You experience this form of female sexual dysfunction if you constantly have difficulty in achieving climax or orgasm, in spite of significant sexual arousal and stimulation. It is estimated that about one in every 10 women never achieve orgasm, regardless of the extent of stimulation. Depression, stress, fatigue and certain medications are some of the factors responsible for orgasm disorder.
Sexual pain disorder – Sexual dysfunction of this type is characterized by painful sensation during intercourse or even from vaginal contact. This is caused mainly by insufficient lubrication of the vagina. The problem has also been linked to vaginismus, a condition characterized by involuntary spasms of vaginal muscles which prevent penetration. Anxiety over engaging in sexual activity and the use of contraceptive creams are also possible causative factors.
In spite of a sizeable number of women being affected by sexual dysfunction, only a small proportion is believed to ever seek medical attention. It is advised that you should immediately seek the attention of a doctor if you are worried by these sexual issues or they have started affecting your relationship. Medical treatment may not be needed if you do not consider symptoms observed as being very worrisome.
Tests and Diagnosis
Your doctor would usually like to discuss with you your sexual and medical history if you suspect you may be suffering from sexual dysfunction. Chances of more accurate diagnosis and selection of effective treatment approach improve the more you are forthcoming about the questions asked. A pelvic examination would also be done to check if there are physical changes that might be getting in the way of your sexual satisfaction.
A number of blood tests may also be ordered. These include test to measure complete blood count as well as amount of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) in the blood. Vaginal discharge culture, serum estradiol test, urinalysis and depression screening tests may also be performed, depending on your sexual and medical history.
Treating female sexual dysfunction
The best course of treatment for sexual dysfunction is usually that which addresses any underlying hormonal changes or medical conditions. The more common treatment options include:
Flibansenrin (Addyi) is one of the medications that have been used to treat sexual problems in women. This FDA-approved drug, originally an antidepressant, is used to improve sex drive in premenopausal women. Tibolone is another medication that has shown potential for dealing with female sexual dysfunction. The synthetic steroid drug is used for treating menopausal symptoms, such as vaginal dryness. PDE5 inhibitors such as sildenafil (Viagra) have not proven as effective in women as they are in men. But clinical trials have indicated that sildenafil could enhance sexual arousal and achievement of orgasm.
Deficiencies in vital endocrine hormones, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone interfere with sexual responsiveness in women. Replacement of these hormones, therefore, may help to fight sexual dysfunction in women. Estrogen therapy, given in form of creams, tablets or vaginal rings, can improve vaginal blood flow, tone and lubrication as well as elasticity. Although testosterone is not as important in women as it is in men, it is still needed in small amount for optimal sexual health.
You could benefit from speaking with a counselor who specializes in relationship and sexual matters. Counseling can be useful in dealing with issues such as orgasm difficulty or incompatible sexual drive. You will also be able to learn, among other things, how to effectively manage your sexual response as well as deal with resentment or anger issues.
Healthy lifestyle habits go a long way in preventing or treating female sexual dysfunction. Reduce your alcohol intake as this is capable of interfering with your sexual response. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Experts say regular aerobic exercises can improve your stamina and enhance your mood making you feel more romantic. Quit or avoid smoking because it can get in the way of sexual arousal and orgasm by reducing blood flow to the sexual organs. You should also consciously create time to relax and de-stress.
Natural treatments or supplements
There are natural treatments that are believed to be beneficial to women with sexual dysfunction. One of the herbs that are considered very potent for dealing with sexual issues in women is gingko biloba. Some preliminary studies indicate this herb, one that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, may be helpful from the treatment of sexual dysfunction cases brought on by the use of antidepressants.
Yohimbe bark is another potent herb that has for long been used for combating sexual dysfunction. However, it is only advisable to use it strictly under the supervision of a physician because it is potentially hazardous. The amino acid L-arginine, ginseng (particularly red ginseng), Damiana, St. John’s wort and DHEA are among the other natural remedies that are thought helpful. You may also benefit from using supplements containing these natural ingredients as well as essential vitamins and minerals.
HGH therapy for sexual dysfunction in women
Human growth hormone (HGH) is a multi-purpose substance that is secreted by the pituitary gland in the head. It is principally responsible for growth and development in humans, but it is useful for many vital processes in the body. The amount of the hormone, however, drops as people get older. This brings about decline in sexual performance, among other unpleasant changes.
There is insufficient evidence from clinical studies that growth hormone improve sexual function. But problem with sex drive and desire has been reported in people with insufficient or excess growth hormone. HGH is said to play an important role in the regulation of the hypothalamuspituitary-gonadal axis and appears to contribute to the regulation of sexual response in the genitals. It is therefore believed that HGH therapy may be helpful in improving sexual performance, partly because it improves energy levels and mood.
Female sexual dysfunction, if left untreated, could give rise to low self-esteem. It may even lead to chronic depression. In addition to medical and hormonal remedies, natural remedies and supplements can also be beneficial in treating the problem. Yoga and acupuncture are two of the alternative treatment options that are believed to useful as well. Discussion between you and your partner will no doubt go a long way in combating sexual dysfunction more effectively and improving your sexual relationship.
Editor: Dr. James Jackson