Recognizing Sexual Dysfunction
Television shows and movies would have us believe that sex, for most women, is plentiful, fulfilling, even eye-popping. But according to a recent study by the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS), 43 percent of American women have sex lives that are less than ideal.
The study involved 1,749 women ages 18 to 59 and excluded women who were not sexually active for at least a year. Women were considered to have sexual dysfunction if they described any of the following: lack of sexual desire, difficulty becoming aroused, inadequate lubrication, inability to achieve orgasm, anxiety about sexual performance, reaching orgasm too rapidly, physical pain during intercourse or failure to derive pleasure from sex.
The study found that certain groups of women were more likely to experience specific types of sexual dysfunction:
- Single women – Anxiety over sex, inability to achieve orgasm
- Less-educated women – Loss of interest, performance anxiety, inability to achieve orgasm
- Women in poor physical or emotional health – Low desire, inadequate arousal, and pain during sex
- Women with a recent decline in social status – Low desire, inadequate arousal, pain
- Women forced to have sex early in life – Low desire, inadequate arousal
- Women with a poor relationship with their partner – Two- to four-fold risk of all categories of sexual dysfunction
- Women younger than age 30 – Higher numbers in all categories of sexual dysfunction
According to J. L., M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist with the Alliance Center for Reproductive Health, these conditions can all aggravate or even give rise to each other. Women who experience painful intercourse often develop problems with desire, arousal or orgasm caused by this overlying anxiety.
Women who suffer from sexual dysfunction can’t expect a Viagra-like solution. While estrogen or vaginal lubricants (especially in postmenopausal women) may reduce discomfort during intercourse, such factors are not the major determinants of dissatisfaction. For most women, sexual well-being and emotional well-being are inextricably linked and sexual dysfunction is often a symptom of other conditions—depression, low self esteem or troubled relationships—which can’t be corrected with a pill.
The complex relationship between our sexual lives and other areas of our lives makes it difficult to accept, and then confront, sexual problems. The feelings of guilt, inadequacy, fear, frustration and embarrassment that often accompany sexual problems can have a devastating effect on our work and family lives, identity and general outlook.
Communication about this topic with your partner may be difficult, but it’s the first step toward a healthier sex life. If you are experiencing pain during intercourse, inadequate lubrication or believe your problem may be related to a physical condition, an examination by your gynecologist will help to better evaluate your situation. Occasionally, your gynecologist may refer you to a specialized physician with more experience treating sexual dysfunction. Dr. L sees one to two women a week with sexual dysfunction concerns. If these steps fail to improve your situation, you may want to talk with a psychologist, psychiatrist or sex therapist.
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