January 25, 2023

Female sexual dysfunction is common, but problems can be treated.

Many women share an approach to their sexual problems: They don’t talk about them, let alone seek help. Often women don’t know that there are treatment options available for a range of sexual problems, including female sexual dysfunction.

Taboo topic? It might be a Southern thing, avoiding discussions about sex and sexual health. Or it might be a broader cultural thing. After all, commercials for erectile dysfunction treatment for men air during prime-time television. But you don’t see commercials for treatment for women’s sexual dysfunction air during the 8 p.m. hour. And women don’t seem to bring up the topic of sexual pain or low libido during a book club meeting or coffee hour.

They may not realize it, but female sexual dysfunction is actually pretty common. Estimates vary, but some experts believe that about one third of women in the U.S. have a low libido (or sex drive). The numbers may be even higher. That doesn’t take into account other types of sexual dysfunction in females, which include sexual arousal disorder, orgasmic disorder, and pain during sexual contact or stimulation.

Common sexual concerns

About 40% of women have some concerns about their sexual health, said Vanderbilt Women’s Health certified nurse-midwife Danielle Dailey.  Those worries include a low sex drive, pain or trouble with orgasm. But not every woman sees these as a problem in their sex life. The first question to ask yourself, Dailey said, is whether you’re content with your sex life.  Are your concerns causing you distress? If so, it can help to talk with your health-care provider to seek out possible treatment.

Sexual dysfunction can happen at various times throughout a woman’s life. It’s not uncommon for problems to occur shortly after you have a baby, for example.

If you’re experiencing pain during sex, or a lack of desire to have sex, or other problems, it’s important to talk about it with your doctor, midwife or nurse practitioner. The problem may be relatively simple to correct, or it could be more complex. There are steps you can take working with your provider to determine the cause and then potentially address the problem.

What causes sexual dysfunction?

There are three main female sexual dysfunction causes, according to the Hormone Health Network:

  • Physical causes, which can include health problems like heart disease or diabetes, endometriosis or other gynecological problems, nerve damage or side effects from medications such as antidepressants, oral contraceptives or blood pressure treatments;
  • Hormonal causes, which may include a drop in estrogen or a drop in testosterone;
  • And psychological or emotional causes, which may include stress, anxiety, relationship problems, depression, or religious or cultural beliefs about sex.

For many women, the problem may result from more than one cause. That can make treatment more challenging, but again, treatment for female sexual dysfunction is available and worth trying.

Treatment options for female sexual dysfunction

Possible treatment options for female sexual dysfunction can include counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy; lifestyle changes such as weight loss or smoking cessation; prescription estrogen treatment; vaginal moisturizers and lubricants; short-term testosterone therapy; and a prescription device called Eros that increases blood flow to the genitals. There’s also a medication called Addyi that is specifically approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for low sexual desire in women. In some cases, treatment may be as simple as switching from a medication with sexual side effects to one that won’t put a damper on your sexual desire or response.

Another possible treatment is pelvic floor physical therapy. If the sexual concern stems from pain or worries about incontinence, this type of physical therapy can be helpful.

Sexual health is an important part of overall well-being, so don’t brush it off. If you don’t bring it up with your health-care provider, and they don’t bring it up either, you could go for years suffering with something that could be treated.

Need help?

Vanderbilt Women’s Health provides care for women at all stages of their lives at locations across Middle Tennessee.

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