Sexual dysfunction is a condition that can happen during any phase of the sexual response cycle. It prevents you from experiencing satisfaction from sexual activity.
The sexual response cycle traditionally includes excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution. Desire and arousal are both part of the excitement phase of the sexual response. It’s important to know women don’t always go through these phases in order.
While research suggests that sexual dysfunction is common, many people don’t like talking about it. Because treatment options are available, though, you should share your concerns with your partner and healthcare provider.
What are the types of sexual dysfunction?
Sexual dysfunction generally is classified into four categories:
Desire disorders: lack of sexual desire or interest in sex.
Arousal disorders: inability to become physically aroused or excited during sexual activity.
Orgasm disorders: delay or absence of orgasm (climax).
Pain disorders: pain during intercourse.
Who is affected by sexual dysfunction?
Sexual dysfunction can affect any age, although it is more common in those over 40 because it’s often related to a decline in health associated with aging.
What are the symptoms of sexual dysfunction?
Inability to achieve or maintain an erection (hard penis) suitable for intercourse (erectile dysfunction).
Absent or delayed ejaculation despite enough sexual stimulation (retarded ejaculation).
Inability to control the timing of ejaculation (early, or premature, ejaculation).
Inability to achieve orgasm.
Inadequate vaginal lubrication before and during intercourse.
Inability to relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow intercourse.
In men and women:
Lack of interest in or desire for sex.
Inability to become aroused.
Pain with intercourse.
How is sexual dysfunction treated?
Most types of sexual dysfunction can be addressed by treating the underlying physical or psychological problems. Other treatment strategies include:
Medication: When a medication is the cause of the dysfunction, a change in the medication may help. Men and women with hormone deficiencies may benefit from hormone shots, pills or creams. For men, drugs, including sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®, Staxyn®) and avanafil (Stendra®) may help improve sexual function by increasing blood flow to the penis. For women, hormonal options such as estrogen and testosterone can be used (although these medications are not approved for this purpose). In premenopausal women, there are two medications that are approved by the FDA to treat low desire, including flibanserin (Addyi®) and bremelanotide (Vyleesi®).
Mechanical aids: Aids such as vacuum devices and penile implants may help men with erectile dysfunction (the inability to achieve or maintain an erection). A vacuum device (EROS-CTD™) is also approved for use in women but can be expensive. Dilators may help women who experience narrowing of the vagina. Devices like vibrators can be helpful to help improve sexual enjoyment and climax.
Sex therapy: Sex therapists can people experiencing sexual problems that can’t be addressed by their primary clinician. Therapists are often good marital counselors, as well. For the couple who wants to begin enjoying their sexual relationship, it’s well worth the time and effort to work with a trained professional.
Behavioral treatments: These involve various techniques, including insights into harmful behaviors in the relationship, or techniques such as self-stimulation for treatment of problems with arousal and/or orgasm.
Psychotherapy: Therapy with a trained counselor can help you address sexual trauma from the past, feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt and poor body image. All of these factors may affect sexual function.
Education and communication: Education about sex and sexual behaviors and responses may help you overcome anxieties about sexual function. Open dialogue with your partner about your needs and concerns also helps overcome many barriers to a healthy sex life.