What Is Sexual Dysfunction In Women?

Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Published 06/24/2022

Female sexual dysfunction is a very common yet distressing disorder that deals with trouble having and/or enjoying sex. Male sexual dysfunction is also common, but this article will focus on female sexual dysfunction specifically. 

30 to 50 percent of women will have sexual issues at some point throughout their lives. If you or your partner are having difficulties with sexual dysfunctions, don’t be alarmed. You aren’t alone. This article will outline the sexual dysfunction meaning, the common symptoms, potential causes of sexual disorders, and ways to deal with the problem. After reading this article, you’ll know exactly what defines sexual dysfunction, meaning that you’ll be well equipped to deal with sexual issues if they arise.

What Defines Female Sexual Dysfunction?

In broad strokes, sexual dysfunction refers to the condition in which a person has trouble having and/or enjoying sex, and these issues bother the person. Mayo Clinic provides a more specific sexual dysfunctions definition: “Persistent, recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain — that distress you or strain your relationship with your partner — are known medically as sexual dysfunction.”

Sex issues vary greatly from person to person. Sex problems can occur at any point in life. Sometimes, these issues are present in every sex circumstance, but only certain circumstances engender sexual problems for other people.

Sex is one of the most complex, interconnected acts that humans are capable of. The amalgamation of physical, mental, and emotional factors makes sex such a difficult act to define and understand. Stress, anxiety, or general discomfort in any area of life could contribute to sexual disorders. Because of the complex nature of sex, there are no easy, 1-step solutions to solving a sexual problem. Instead, it often requires mindfulness, understanding of the self, and a strong support network to work through these problems.

Additionally, sex can be very important for mental health and quality of life, so solving potential sexual issues can be a wonderful moment. These problems are incredibly common, but the good news is that they are treatable and can be resolved most of the time.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sexual Dysfunction?

The symptoms of sexual dysfunction disorders are widespread. Each person’s body reacts slightly differently. However, there are some general trends and themes that are very common when experiencing sexual dysfunction.

There are common problems in women, such as lack of sexual desire, unwanted physical arousal, pain during sexual acts, difficulty becoming aroused, or involuntary tightening of muscles in genital areas. Most often, though, women with sexual dysfunction disorders can have a combination of these symptoms.

Additionally, many of these specific problems exacerbate each other. For example, if a woman finds sexual activity painful, she will likely have difficulty reaching an orgasm, making her hesitant towards sexual activities in the future, compounding the issues.

There are many types of sexual dysfunction, and each one brings along its own set of potential symptoms. As mentioned earlier, though, most sexual dysfunction cases span a few of these types, so don’t think of each type as its own disorder. Common types of sexual dysfunction include:

  • Low sexual desire
    • This is a common type of sexual dysfunction in which a female lacks sexual interest and desire to engage in sexual acts.
  • Sexual arousal disorder
    • This type is similar to low sexual desire, but with one big difference. Here, a woman may desire to engage in sexual activities, but she has difficulty becoming aroused or maintaining arousal throughout sexual activity.
  • Orgasmic disorder
    • This type involves persistent difficulty reaching an orgasm despite the continued sexual activity.
  • Sexual pain
    • This type deals with having physical pain associated with sexual activity.

It is often very difficult to self-diagnose issues with sexual dysfunction. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing sexual dysfunction disorder, please consider taking this short test. It will only take a few minutes but could provide valuable information about your risk level for sexual dysfunction. Understanding you have a problem is often the first and most important step in recovery. However, it is important to note that this test is only meant to serve as a preliminary test, and true diagnoses can only be given by a medical professional.

What Are The Causes Of Sexual Dysfunction?

It is difficult to assign responsibility for a sexual dysfunction disorder to a single cause. Instead, it is very common for a plethora of factors to converge and result in sexual issues. Each individual’s root cause of sexual dysfunction is going to be slightly different.

There is a long list of risk factors that may increase your risk of sexual dysfunction. Please note that showing these factors doesn’t necessarily mean you have a sexual dysfunction disorder, only that you may have an elevated risk of developing a sexual dysfunction disorder.

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Heart disease or related blood vessel disease
  • Conditions affecting the brain such as spinal cord injuries
  • Gynecological conditions
  • Emotional, mental, or psychological stress, especially regarding a romantic relationship

In addition to these risk factors, other factors that can contribute to sexual dissatisfaction and potentially lead to sexual dysfunction can be categorized into 4 broad ideas.

Potential Causes Of Sexual Dysfunction

Physical

Many different medical conditions could contribute to developing sexual dysfunction. Research suggests that serious conditions such as cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, or kidney failure could lead to sexual dysfunction.

Hormonal

Decreased estrogen levels can lead to less blood flow in the pelvic region, possibly resulting in less sexual satisfaction or more difficulty reaching orgasm. Sexual problems often rear their head during times in which hormones are in flux. Events such as having a baby, menopause, transitioning between sexes, or acquiring a major illness can contribute in this way.

Psychological

Mental health conditions involving anxiety or depression may contribute to sexual dysfunction. Other mental blocks such as stress, past experiences with sexual abuse, or relationship issues can be detrimental to sexual satisfaction. Generally, stress and anxiety about large life events, such as pregnancy, becoming a mother, and the state of a current relationship, are contributing factors to sexual dysfunction. Finally, some women find themselves stressed about a partner’s performance, leading to sexual dysfunction.

Cultural

Women from cultures that restrict female sexual activity or expression may experience shame or guilt about sexual desire and activity. These may contribute to issues with body image and eventually may lead to sexual dysfunction.

How To Navigate Sexual Dysfunction

Although sexual dysfunction is a serious disorder that needs to be taken seriously, there is good news. Sexual dysfunction is incredibly common and, in almost all cases, can be overcome.

Treatment is obviously going to differ based on each individual’s experiences with sexual dysfunction. The most important thing to know is that trained medical professionals can help understand sexual dysfunction. Please reach out to your medical professional for information regarding professional treatment.

Before seeking treatment, there are other techniques that you may find helpful if you are struggling with sexual dysfunction. Three meaningful approaches are: practicing mindfulness, choosing a good location and time for sex, and improving the relationship with a sexual partner.

Practice Mindfulness

This involves learning to focus on the moment and trying to disregard long term stressors. Being mindful helps people avoid distractions. It also helps enable women to enjoy sensations during sex and remain relaxed. For more information about mindfulness, click here.

Choosing The Right Time And Place

An often-overlooked solution to sexual dysfunction is choosing appropriate times to become sexually active. For example, maybe you do not like to have sex late at night when you are tired or feel self-conscious having sex in a house where other people are present and could possibly walk in on you. Instead, experiment with your partner and find times and locations that are safe, encouraging, and private.

Improving Your Relationship With A Sexual Partner

A better and more meaningful relationship with a partner can potentially improve sexual satisfaction and reduce the risk of persistent sexual dysfunction. It is important to communicate openly and clearly and express each partner’s desires. Sexual dysfunction could be a symptom of a greater problem, such as a lack of trust in the relationship or unconscious fear of disappointing your partner.

There are also plenty of psychological therapies, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, that can help a woman overcome sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, consultation with a doctor can help to identify any potential underlying problems and potential solutions. Please consult a licensed medical professional for all advice concerning medications or treatments.

Conclusion: Sexual Dysfunction Doesn’t have To Take Over

Sexual dysfunction can be a major part of a woman’s life, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking smart, simple steps to reduce the risk of sexual dysfunction, along with having open, honest conversations with your sexual partner, is a great place to start.

Remember that there is nothing wrong with sex, and there is nothing wrong with the desires you feel. There are many different sexualities, including people who are asexual and do not intuitively feel sexual desire. Some people can only feel sexual desire if they also feel a strong, romantic connection, or people who are only attracted to very specific interactions or genders. As long as sex is healthy and consensual, feel free to experiment, and find out what you like. And if you haven’t found something that you like, remember that you always have the right to say no. You should never feel pressured into a sexual situation that you do not want to be in, even if that sexual situation is with a spouse or partner. You could try to become more comfortable with your sexuality and practice speaking about it in an open, healthy way. Never feel ashamed of the way you feel. And if your sexual dysfunction affects your happiness, relationships, and quality of life, you can always seek out a mental health professional or couples counselor to shed some light on the issue.