Sexual Dysfunction

Written by Healthline Staff | Published on December 17, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on December 17, 2013

What Is Sexual Dysfunction?

Sexual dysfunction is any problem that prevents a person from desiring or enjoying sexual activity. It can occur at any stage of sex, from pre-arousal to post-orgasm.

It is normal for people to have varying levels of sexual desire and ability, and it’s normal for these to change over time. Sexual dysfunction is any problem that occurs on a regular basis and that interferes with a person’s ability to have a happy life.

Sexual dysfunction can occur at any age, but risk increases as we grow older. Both men and women experience sexual dysfunction.

Types of Sexual Dysfunction

There are four types of sexual dysfunction:

  • A desire disorder is when a person has little or no interest in sexual relations on an ongoing basis.
  • An arousal disorder is when a person is interested in sex but the body won’t perform.
  • An orgasm disorder is when an inability to climax frustrates a person.
  • A pain disorder is when it hurts to have sexual intercourse.

What Causes Sexual Dysfunction?

Stress and relationship troubles are common causes of sexual dysfunction. Sexual trauma or psychological issues can cause sexual dysfunction. So can medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Using illegal drugs, drinking alcohol, and certain medications can also affect sexual desire and ability.

In men, low levels of testosterone can cause a loss of sexual desire. In women, low estrogen or testosterone levels can affect desire. Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and menopause can affect a woman’s hormone levels and her interest in sex.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection appropriate for intercourse. ED can be caused by problems with blood flow, nerve disorders, Peyronie’s disease, chronic illnesses, and injuries to the genitals or groin. Psychological issues can also cause ED.

Premature ejaculation is when a man ejaculates before or immediately after penetration. It can be caused by psychological issues, as well as by nerve damage and other physical conditions. Inhibited ejaculation is when a man is unable to ejaculate.

Women may experience pain during sexual penetration, due to inadequate lubrication and tense vaginal muscles. Involuntary vaginal muscle spasms (also known as vaginismus) can cause pain during sexual intercourse. These spasms may be symptoms of neurological, urinary tract, or bowel disorders.

Menopause causes hormonal changes that may make sex painful. A drop in estrogen levels can thin the vaginal lining and decrease lubrication.

When to See a Doctor

Sexual problems can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment. These feelings can make the problems worse.

If a problem continues for many weeks or if you suspect a physical cause, make an appointment with your doctor.

How Is Sexual Dysfunction Treated?

Treatment for sexual dysfunction depends on the specific cause.

ED treatment has advanced a lot in recent years. Many men have positive results with prescription medications like sildenafil citrate (Viagra). Other remedies include mechanical aids, penile implants, or surgery.

Lubricating gels or creams or hormone therapy may solve the problem of vaginal dryness.

If no physical cause is found, psychological counseling may help. Relationship or couples counseling can improve communication skills and help foster intimacy.

Education about sexual behavior and sexual inhibitions can also be addressed in counseling. Psychotherapy may help resolve deeply rooted sexual dysfunction.

Communication is important. If you have any type of sexual dysfunction, talk to your partner. Don’t let embarrassment prevent you from getting help or talking to your doctor. Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs, and educate yourself about potential side effects of medication you’re taking. If you’ve been a victim of sexual violence, seek counseling.

What Is the Outlook for Sexual Dysfunction?

Stress and anxiety about sexual dysfunction can make the problem worse. Often, the outlook for sexual dysfunction is quite good if the problem is approached openly and dealt with. But some medical conditions and deeply rooted psychological issues are more difficult to resolve.

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