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What is Sexual Dysfunction?

By Kasey James
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Any difficulty or problem that happens during sex and prevents one or both people from enjoying it is considered to be a sexual dysfunction. The dysfunction can occur in any stage of the sexual act. The four stages of sex are desire, arousal, orgasm and resolution.

There are many types of sexual dysfunction. A desire disorder is when there is a lack of interest in sex. An arousal disorder is when a person can not become aroused during sex. An orgasm disorder is a lack of an orgasm or climax. Common to women is a disorder in which pain is caused by sexual activity.

Sexual dysfunction can happen to men and to women. Some of the most common dysfunctions for women involve an inability to have an orgasm and relax the vaginal muscles or vaginal dryness. Tense vaginal muscles or dryness can cause sex to be painful for women. These sexual malfunctions can lead to a lack of interest in the act.

Men can also have sexual dysfunctions. They can experience premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction—meaning they are unable to keep an erection— or an absence of ejaculation. These malfunctions can cause men to lose interest in sex or become less aroused by sex.

There can be many causes of sexual dysfunction. Some are physical causes and some may be psychological. Physical causes can include medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and liver disease. Hormone imbalances, alcoholism and drug addiction, can also contribute. Psychological causes may include stress, anxiety, depression or a psychological issue due to a past sexual trauma.

Other causes for sexual dysfunction could be changes in life such as having a baby, breastfeeding, relocating or having a loved one pass away. Each of these life changes could bring on unexpected emotions, which could result in a dysfunction that may be temporary. Taking any new medication may also affect sexual function.

Problems during sex are common, and many of them are treatable. There are many prescription drugs that can be taken under a physician's care that may reverse sexual dysfunction. Some medications may be used to treat a hormone issue for men or women, and some prescription drugs can help women with vaginal issues. There are also medications designed to treat erectile dysfunction that have been successful for many men.

Another treatment option can include working with a trained counselor. There are psychologists who focus on sexual dysfunction and will work through the problems with one or both partners. This kind of counseling can include open communication and behavioral therapy.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By jennythelib — On Apr 27, 2012

The female libido remains so mysterious! There's been a lot of research into a "little blue pill" for women, but it remains elusive and I think that's at least partly because women's sexual response can be so complex and involve such an interplay of physical and emotional factors.

A friend of mine was really helped by a book called "Reclaiming Desire" that walked her through some exercises to address all the different possible causes of a lack of libido. She had to start taking better care of herself physically and emotionally before she got anywhere. It also has good sections on motherhood and menopause - I haven't experienced either of those personally, but she has. With pregnancy and breastfeeding, she says you really get the one-two punch of hormonal changes plus exhaustion. Just understanding what was going on physically, she said, helped her husband be more understanding.

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