What is Sexual Dysfunction?

Have you ever found yourself in an intimate situation with your partner but then were unable to perform? Things just did not seem to want to work the way they use to? Or maybe you thought things were okay, but as you began, it was clear things were very off.

Sexual dysfunction is a problem that can happen to anyone, of any age, and interferes and prevents one from experiencing satisfaction and/or release from sexual and intimate activities.

The standard phases of sexual response typically include excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Although many people do not follow this path or the phases in “order.” Libido, desire, and arousal fall under the excitement phase of the sexual response map. The National Institute of Health states that, “nearly 43% of women and 35% of males face sexual dysfunction. While over 80% of cancer patients and those with long term illness face some form of sexual dysfunction” (NIH).

Sexual dysfunction is a global issue that is rarely discussed due to the taboo nature of the topic. There are numerous options available to help people work through their dysfunction issues, from prescription options to holistic therapies, and surgical interventions. At Reclaiming Intimacy, we work to help bridge the gap in patient care, helping to make intimacy, sexuality, and sexual function & dysfunction a part of everyday medical care discussion.

Types of Sexual Dysfunction

There are four categories of sexual dysfunction. They are:

  • Arousal disorder which is the inability to become physically aroused or excited during sexual activity.
  • Desire disorder which is the lack of sexual desire or interest in sex.
  • Orgasm disorder which is the delay or absence or orgasm.
  • Pain disorders which can intensify pain during intimate activity and intercourse.

Anyone can be affected by sexual dysfunction at any time in their life. It is a most common occurrence for those individuals over 40 years of age, those with heart conditions, or those going through cancer or other long-term illness.

Causes and Symptoms of Sexual Dysfunction

For Males:

  • The inability to achieve or maintain an erection suitable for penetration or intercourse. This can occur at varying levels, be occasional or complete, and the male has options to help control.
  • Ejaculation dysfunction which occurs with a delayed, absent, or early ejaculation.

For Females:

  • Inadequate natural vaginal lubrication before, during, and after sexual activity or intercourse.
  • Inability to relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow penetration.
  • Inability to achieve orgasm, or anorgasmia.

For Males and Females:

  • Inability to become aroused.
  • Lack of interest in or desire for sex.
  • Pain with intimacy and intercourse.

The physical causes of of sexual dysfunction often link to diabetes, heart and vascular disease, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalances, cancer, chronic diseases like liver failure, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

The psychological causes of sexual dysfunction include stress, anxiety, concern about sexual performance, marital or relationship problems, depression, guilt, shame, poor body image, and possible past sexual trauma.

Sexual Dysfunction & Medications

Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can have an impact on sexual function. Other medications directly impact libido and desire for intimacy. Here are some of the types of medications that could impact your function:

  • Non-prescription medications: antihistamines, decongestants
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-hypertensive medications
  • Hormones
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

There are many more medications that can interfere with your sexual function. If you are concerned about the medication you take, do talk with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if your medications could be adding to the cause of your sexual dysfunction.

Diagnosing Sexual Dysfunction

In most all cases, the patient or their partner is the first person to bring up this topic with the doctor during a visit. Others, however, are not comfortable addressing these topics at all, and find their information from online sources. After bringing the issue to your provider, they will begin with a complete history or your symptoms and complete a physical examination. If warranted, they may order further testing to prove or disprove other possible reasons for your dysfunction.

Your doctor may also suggest that your seek out a counselor or therapist to help you to work through past issues that may be blocking your ability to accept intimacy or sexual activity in your life.

Managing Sexual Dysfunction

Most all levels and types of sexual dysfunction have options for treatment. Some will address the underlying causes to get to the root of the issue, while others need to be treated at a more surface level (due to medications, cancer or treatments they are on for other issues). Depending on your situation, some of the treatment methods could include:

  • Prescription medications. There are numerous medications on the market today for males and females to help them to address their low libido and low sex drive. Males benefit from things like Viagra, Cialis, or Stendra; and females now have Addyi or Vyleesi. For some, taking more medications can be too much, or too harsh on the body.
  • Lubrication. Lubrication is one of the easiest and most beneficial additions for those struggling with sexual dysfunction. Certain medical treatments, aging, and body changes often cause dry, painful tissues. This is especially true of the genitalia for men and women during intimacy or sexual activity, where friction might cause pain. Using a lubrication, water-based or silicone, gives you a thin or thick friction barrier, preventing and reducing pain, moisturizing the skin, and keeping the friction load low. Daily moisturizers can also be used for those experiencing daily dryness and looking for a natural way to help restore moisture.
  • Therapeutic Aids and Devices for Sexual Dysfunction. These devices are designed to offer up holistic therapies for men and women in regard to reclaiming their natural function and pleasure spots. For males, things like vacuum pumps (or water based pumps for gentle therapy), support and enhancement rings, or prostate massagers can help to restore lost function. For females, dilators used regularly, Kegel exercisers, or vibrators can help to bring pliability back to the vagina. These devices to not require prescriptions or medications and are safe to use during your treatment plans.
  • Sex and Relationship Therapy. AASECT sex therapists and counselors can offer help and support to people who are struggling with addressing issues hindering their sexual abilities. This therapy can help immensely when reconnecting with the self or your partner. Sexual wellness experts can help you to explore the options in the holistic therapy field and learn about devices and your body.
  • Behavioral treatments and Psychotherapy. This is best addressed with a therapist, as finding insight in to past memories or traumas can help you to work through your blocks on your path to restoring function.
  • Communication and Education. Learning all you can about the human body, the options for finding pleasure, and the multitude of pleasure points around the body can help you to expand your horizons and accept your body’s new ways of finding and enjoying sexual activity again.

Living with Sexual Dysfunction

The success of the treatments for sexual dysfunction depends much on the underlying cause, and the willingness of the patient to participate actively in learning about, restoring, and working with their very own body. There are numerous options for bettering sexual dysfunction issues and it is often a matter of “trial and error” testing out different things, devices, and therapies to help you to regain the function you have lost.

At Reclaiming Intimacy, we work to empower people with the knowledge of the myriad of ways the body is capable of finding pleasure in new ways, restoring “old” ways lost with medical chaos, and helping you to get to know your changing body even better.

Where there is a will, there is always a way!

Resources Used:

Reclaiming Intimacy

Websters Dictionary



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