When a Woman Loses Desire: Sexual Dysfunction in Women
Dissatisfaction with sexual life is an issue for both men and women. Dissatisfaction for women may be due to a lack of interest in sex, inability to achieve orgasm, or pain during sex. Unfortunately, pinpointing the underlying issues and conditions that cause sexual dissatisfaction can be complicated. There may be both medical and psychological issues involved. In fact, often several issues interrelate to affect a woman’s sexual life.
Sexual Dysfunction DisordersIn exploring women’s sexual problems, doctors must realize that a woman’s sexual life is personal. For example, what may bother one woman may not bother another. And what may occur in one situation may not occur in every situation. Still, doctors may use a general classification system to help sort out the basis of a woman’s dissatisfaction with her sexual life. This classification system includes the following four disorders:
- Sexual desire/interest disorder
- Sexual arousal disorder
- Orgasmic disorder
- Sexual pain disorder such as vaginismus or dyspareunia
Sexual Desire DisorderFor some women, a lack of desire before having sex is normal. But these women may become aroused or interested once they start to engage in sexual activity. A woman may have sexual desire disorder if she is worried or concerned about her lack of interest in sex. The lack of interest may be not having sexual thoughts or fantasies, not desiring sexual activity, or not being receptive to a partner’s desire for sexual activity. The causes of sexual desire disorder can vary from low hormone levels to chronic medical illnesses to social or psychological issues. Often several factors interact to create a situation of low sexual desire.
Sexual Arousal DisorderSexual arousal disorder is the persistent inability to become sexually excited both physically and mentally, and its causes may be either physical or psychological. Physical causes include low blood flow to the genitals or inadequate lubrication. Psychological causes may include anxiety and stress. Arousal can also be affected by lifestyle factors, such as using drugs, alcohol, or smoking. It can also be affected by certain medications.
Orgasmic DisorderSome women do not achieve orgasm with intercourse or with their partners, but are otherwise satisfied with their sexual activity. Orgasmic disorder occurs when a woman cannot achieve orgasm. This disorder is only considered if a woman is severely bothered by not achieving orgasm. Women with an orgasmic disorder may have never achieved orgasm, or perhaps they have in the past but do not currently. Causes may include poor body image, fear of losing control, or distrust of a sexual partner. Other factors may also play a role.
Sexual Pain DisordersSexual pain disorders include persistent genital pain with intercourse, called dyspareunia, and involuntary spasms of the vaginal muscle, called vaginismus. Genital pain that occurs with sexual stimulation but without intercourse also falls into this category. Pain during sex can be a lifelong condition, or it may only occur for a short time. Lack of lubrication is the most common cause of genital pain with intercourse. Women may have dyspareunia for a period of time after giving birth to a baby. Postmenopausal women may also experience pain with intercourse due to lowered hormone levels, which reduce the natural lubrication of the vagina. Infections and inflammation of the vagina or bladder may also cause these painful conditions.
A Combination of FactorsSome women may have more than one sexual disorder type. In these cases, there are often many underlying causes that interrelate. For example, a postpartum woman may have pain with her first intercourse after delivery because of lack of lubrication or slow healing of vaginal injury during birth. She may also lose interest in sex because she is tired from taking care of an infant. If her partner desires sexual contact more than she does, she may then develop some anxiety or lack of excitement during sexual activity that will may increase the problem.
Dealing With Sexual DissatisfactionThere are some simple steps you can take to increase arousal, achieve orgasm, and minimize pain during sex. Have a straightforward talk with your partner about your feelings and try some of these:
- Make sure you are well rested.
- Increase the amount of time you spend on foreplay.
- Use a vaginal lubricant if you experience dryness.
- Try different positions or non-intercourse sexual activities.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Canadian Women's Health Network
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
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- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 10/02/2014