Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction

09 July, 2020
Female sexual dysfunction remains a taboo subject. For this reason, many women experience problems with their sexuality, but they don't report them, nor do they seek the necessary help to overcome them.

Female sexual dysfunction is a concept that includes various difficulties that prevent women from experiencing sexual pleasure. It’s also a subject that’s still taboo in many places.

This is confirmed by research carried out by a team from the University of California, published in 2003 by the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Aiming to further explore the experience of people with sexual dysfunctions, the researchers found that 40 percent of women don’t seek help from a doctor. This is even the case if they’re having difficulty getting sexual pleasure.

In fact, the very concept of female sexual dysfunction is controversial. Strictly speaking, the label is only applicable in cases where women aren’t comfortable with their sex lives. Therefore, the criteria is very subjective.

Some women have a low libido or don’t easily reach orgasm. Even so, they don’t feel like they have a problem.

In these cases, we can’t use the label female sexual dysfunction, as the decisive factor is the degree of well-being or discomfort that they experience with their sex life.

What is female sexual dysfunction?

Woman with female sexual dysfunction sitting up in bed with her head in her hand.

Female sexual dysfunction can be defined from two points of view: one is biological and the other psycho-social. From a biological point of view, it corresponds to trouble experiencing desire, excitement, or orgasm. Scientists also add pain during intercourse to this list.

From a psycho-social point of view, female sexual dysfunction occurs when there’s a significant change in the habitual sexual behavior of women. And when that change causes her to feel a subjective conflict.

You should keep in mind that sexuality implies the implementation of physiological mechanisms, but also of a set of emotions, beliefs, lifestyles, memories, and links to the world. Humans are biological, but also symbolic.

Read also: 8 Interesting Facts about Female Masturbation

Types of female sexual dysfunction

From a medical point of view, female sexual dysfunctions have been classified into various types, each with its own causes and characteristics. From research such as that published in 2016 in the magazine SEMERGEN – Family Medicine, we can conclude that the types of female sexual dysfunction are:

  • Hypoactive sexual desire. This is a decrease in sexual desire at specific times in life.
  • Sexual arousal disorder. This is when the woman has trouble starting the physiological mechanisms associated with sex, or even finds it impossible to do so.
  • Pain associated with intercourse. This is known as dyspareunia and corresponds to physical pain during sexual intercourse. Many times it’s associated with vaginismus, which is the involuntary contraction of the vaginal muscles, which makes intercourse difficult.
  • Orgasmic disorder. This is when it’s hard to reach orgasm after arousal.

Main physical causes

Woman in bed gripping the sheets.

Female sexual dysfunction is almost always associated with both physical and emotional problems. In general, you can usually fix physical problems in a short time. Emotional factors require more time.

Among the physical causes, the following stand out:

  • Chronic diseases. Some diseases affect sexual desire. These are mainly diabetes, cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease.
  • Gynecological problems. Problems in the pelvic muscles, often after surgery in that area, could affect sexual desire. Also, some disorders such as endometriosis or cystitis can have the same effect.
  • Hormonal problems. They correspond to the decrease in estrogen or the level of testosterone. The first is due to menopause, or premature ovarian failure. The second is due to the removal of the ovaries or aging.
  • Medicines. Some medications and drugs can alter sexual function. Among them, antihypertensives and antidepressants. Alcohol and other psychoactive drugs may also have a role in sexuality.

Discover: How to Start a Conversation About Your Sexual Desires

Main psychological and social causes

Emotional factors always have a big impact on sex life. The most important of these is experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during childhood or adolescence. This causes trauma, which can be sustained over the long term if not properly treated.

In addition to this, there are other factors that could cause it to appear:

  • Stress or anxiety. Anguish and worries decrease interest in sex or limit your enjoyment.
  • Depression. Depressive states inhibit the physiological mechanisms of sex and significantly reduce sexual interest.
  • Inhibitions. You might express these as fear of intimacy, fear of losing control, fear of not performing properly, or eve shame and low self-esteem.
  • Fatigue. Tiredness limits your ability to enjoy sex. A very tight schedule could easily lead to female sexual dysfunction.
  • Relationship problems. When you have unresolved difficulties in a relationship, it’s very common for this to be reflected in your sex life.
  • Misleading beliefs. Sometimes religious or ideological factors lead one to think that sexual pleasure is a bad thing.

Women can usually overcome female sexual dysfunction with proper treatment. In most cases it’s temporary. However, it’s best to consult with a sexologist, who is a professional trained to deal with all the factors involved.

  • Bravo, C. S., Carmona, F. M., Meléndez, J. C., & Ramírez, S. M. (2005). Disfunción sexual femenina su relación con el rol de género y la asertividad. Perinatología y reproducción humana, 19(3-4), 152-160.
  • Berman, L., Berman, J., Felder, S., Pollets, D., Chhabra, S., Miles, M., & Powell, J. A. (2003). Seeking help for sexual function complaints: what gynecologists need to know about the female patient’s experience. Fertility and sterility, 79(3), 572-576.
  • Montero, A. A., & Carnerero, C. S. (2016). Disfunción sexual femenina: opciones de tratamiento farmacológico. SEMERGEN-Medicina de Familia, 42(5), e33-e37.
  • Sexual Problems in Women | Dyspareunia | MedlinePlus. Retrieved 3 May 2020, from https://medlineplus.gov/sexualproblemsinwomen.html