Breaking the Stigma Around Sexual Dysfunction in Women
If you're not dying to have a roll in the hay every night, your first response should not be alarm. Everyone's natural libido is different, and it fluctuates based on the slightest changes in your body, mind or environment. You could have no libido at all and still be normal, as any asexual individual will tell you.
However, if a lack of desire or an inability to have sex is impeding your quality of life and causing you distress, you may be facing a form of female sexual dysfunction. This is a condition in which a woman has persistent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain during sex, according to the Mayo Clinic.
While estimates vary, up to 40 percent of women (some experts believe up to 50 percent) in the United States experience sexual dysfunction at some point in their life.
Identifying female sexual dysfunction
Many women who experience sexual dysfunction report that it makes them feel guilty or ashamed, like something might be wrong with them. And if it persists, sexual dysfunction can lead to relationship strain for some couples.
Common signs of sexual dysfunction include a lack of interest in sex, an inability to get or stay aroused, an inability to orgasm and pain during sex. You don't have to exhibit all of these symptoms to be diagnosed with sexual dysfunction, as each symptom can have a different cause and be treated differently.
A person's sexual response depends on complex interactions between their physiology, emotions, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle and relationships. Sexual dysfunction can occur when one or more of these elements become disruptive.
Treatment of sexual dysfunction in women often involves more than one approach.
Communicating your symptoms
Only you know the symptoms you're feeling, so mention them to your doctor, who will perform certain examinations and tests to determine the cause of your sexual dysfunction and identify appropriate treatment options.
Typically, this will begin with a physical examination followed by a series of questions about the nature of your symptoms. This information will help your doctor find out what the best path forward is for you.
While it may be an uncomfortable experience, it's essential to be open and honest with your doctor; if you're not, you may not get the right treatment. For example, be honest when you describe the level and intensity of the pain you feel during sex, because this could make the difference between, say, a diagnosis of vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy, conditions that require different treatments.
Go into the appointment with an open mind, and don't be surprised if your doctor refers you to a relationship counselor or a sex therapist as part of your treatment.
The first steps a doctor recommends will depend on your symptoms. If your problem is strictly physical, the doctor may have you try long-lasting lubricants, vaginal moisturizers, or devices and toys that are designed to reduce any painful aspects of intercourse, as well as improve arousal and enhance orgasms.
If your difficulty cannot be solved by these tools, or if the dysfunction manifests in more psychological symptoms, your doctor can recommend a counselor. Couples counseling, especially, is not uncommon. Some couples likely feel they should go to a counselor only if something is wrong with their relationship, but your doctor may offer this option simply as a way to better equip you and your partner with the tools to openly talk about your sex life.
When natural remedies don't work, the next step is to explore medical causes and treatments. Medications used to treat health conditions such as high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis and menopause, as well as oral contraceptives, antidepressants and diabetes medications, can all impact your hormonal balance and sex drive.
Fortunately, your doctor can offer a variety of therapies to balance your hormones and boost your sex drive, including estrogen therapy, androgen therapy, or medication to enhance arousal before sex.
While there are many medicinal treatments for female sexual dysfunction, they all come with their own risks and are often a last resort. For this reason, most gynecologists will exhaust every other treatment before considering hormone therapies.
No matter the cause of your sexual dysfunction, you should not suffer in silence. Don't let outdated perspectives toward female sexual performance stop you from enjoying time with your partner. If you are experiencing sexual dysfunction, talk to your doctor so you can start down the road to recovery.