Women's Sexual Dysfunction
Most Common Problems Related to Female Sexual Dysfunction
For women, sex can bring a sense of empowerment, intimacy, and ecstasy. But what happens when a woman is unable to perform or reach climax? While many women maintain a healthy sex drive throughout their lifetime, others are unable to achieve sexual intimacy.
Like men, women can experience sexual dysfunction. And the reasons are more complex than you might imagine. Perhaps a woman has experienced a traumatic event sometime in her life, or she feels shame or insecurity. For other women, a negative body image serves as a barrier that prevents them from fully enjoying physical intimacy.
Some women would love to engage in sexual intercourse, but they suffer from physical pain associated with sexual stimulation or vaginal contact. Other women have an illness or injury that makes it difficult to become or stay aroused.
Perimenopause and Menopause
Perimenopause marks the transition of women exiting their childbearing years and entering menopause. Perimenopause can start as early as the mid-30s, and it is particularly characterized by fluctuations in the menstrual cycle (to include missing periods) and hot flashes. The woman is still fertile during this time.
Many of the same symptoms of menopause – including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, decreasing libido, trouble sleeping, and mood swings – cause some women to believe that they have already hit menopause. The difference between the two, however, is that your body continues to produce eggs during perimenopause, and your periods have not yet stopped – although rapidly decelerating estrogen levels make periods inconsistent.
Nevertheless, it’s important to continue to use protection or contraception during sex, because women experiencing perimenopause are still capable of getting pregnant. A woman has officially entered menopause once she has gone 12 months without having a period.
While menopausal women do experience hot flashes and mood swings, the symptoms that tend to cause the most concern are the physical changes that may occur. These can include weight gain, painful or stiff joints, headaches, reduced muscle and bone mass, and thinning hair.
Perimenopause and, more so, menopause, can impact intimacy and relationships, both emotionally and physically. Do not ignore these issues – it is best to see a professional marriage counselor or sex therapist.
Vaginal Atrophy and Vaginal Dryness
Vaginal atrophy causes the vaginal walls to become dry and inflamed. While this is most commonly due to decreased estrogen levels that occur during menopause, vaginal dryness may also result from childbirth and nursing.
Medications used to treat uterine fibroids and endometriosis can cause vaginal discomfort, as can the radiation and chemotherapy protocols used to treat cancer. Antidepressants and allergy medications are also known to cause vaginal dryness.
The pain and discomfort caused by vaginal dryness can impact not only sexual function, but also daily activities. While it is easily treated with topical ointments, constant bouts of vaginal dryness can ultimately impact intimacy in a relationship.
Chronic Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) can occur in any section of the urinary system, which comprises the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. However, most UTIs involve the bladder and the urethra.
Chronic UTIs can take their toll on a person’s health and can result from any number of factors. For women, they may originate during sexual activity, when bacteria are carried to the urethra through the urinary tract. UTIs may also result from severe dehydration or poor hygiene, as well as strong medications that remove good bacteria along with the bad.
Most UTIs can be treated with topical ointments, rehydration, oral medications, and/or maintaining proper hygiene. Left untreated, however, UTIs can cause fever, kidney issues, and sepsis, which is a potentially deadly infection. A woman who is suffering from a UTI may not want to engage in sexual activity – the pain and discomfort may be too severe.
Painful intercourse – dyspareunia – is a broad term that describes any number of reasons a woman might be experiencing pain or discomfort in the pelvic areas during or following intercourse. Many women describe their initial sexual encounters as painful; other women experience pain due to UTIs, vaginal dryness, injury, being pregnant or having recently given birth, or having a skin condition.
Women who fail to address these issues run the risk of having their condition impact not only their overall health, but also their relationships. A medical doctor can diagnose and treat the cause of the pain, while counseling can help deal with any emotional stigma that may be attached to this type of sexual dysfunction – and can help you get past it.
Vaginismus occurs when the muscles of the pelvic floor spasm when an object – such as a penis, tampon, or gynecological or obstetric equipment – is inserted into the vagina. The spasms and contractions are involuntary and can be frightening, especially since these muscles are responsible for urination, bowel movements, orgasm, and childbirth.
Episodes of vaginismus not only lead to generalized muscle spasms, but also can cause excruciating pain and even a very temporary cessation of breathing. Women suffering with vaginismus may live with the constant fear of experiencing an episode, which can impact any sort of intimate relations.
Medical treatment is available to address this condition, and counseling can help a couple come to terms with its many symptoms and side effects.
Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of medications doctors prescribe to treat major depressive and anxiety disorders. While SSRIs can be very effective at treating psychiatric conditions, many women report physical side effects from taking these medications.
One of the primary complaints is that SSRIs have a negative impact on sexual activity. Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction includes reduced sexual desire, difficulty achieving orgasm, drowsiness, and insomnia. Expressing this concern with your medical doctor or psychiatrist is the best way to determine which medication and dosage works best for you and your sex life.
Breast Cancer Surgery and Treatment
Breasts are a defining characteristic of womanhood and a woman’s sexuality. Therefore, a diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating; not only can certain treatments take their toll on a woman’s well-being and appearance, but the disease itself can impact a woman’s sex drive and how she feels about herself and her femininity.
Counseling can provide a huge relief to women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It is also immensely helpful for their partners, who may not know how to deal with the prognosis and what it may bring.
Reproductive Cancer Surgery and Treatment
The impact of a diagnosis of cancer of a woman’s reproductive organs has many levels, the first of which is survivability. When diagnosed early, many cancers are treatable – and a long and healthy life can ensue.
Treatment for cancers of the reproductive organs can be exhausting, frightening, and even frustrating, especially when a woman is in her childbearing years. Working with a caring therapist can help sort out these myriad feelings, and couples counseling can support an open and honest dialogue of how these diseases can impact intimate and long-term relationships and goals.
Women Seeking Help for Sexual Dysfunction
Relationships are built on trust, communication, and honesty. That’s why many couples have sought marriage counseling to overcome the many speedbumps that can occur when lifelong commitment is involved.
Advanced Psychology Partners specializes in the treatment of sexual dysfunction, and we can help you work through intimacy and fidelity issues. If you are having sexual problems or relationship issues of any kind, there is help available.