Being satisfied and fulfilled are two of the major things a couple aims to experience from sexual stimulation. While reaching this point is incredible, the sexual function does not always happen as intended, which can create regret, dissatisfaction, resentment, and more.
About two out of five women and three out of 10 men report sexual problems typical of dysfunction, and as you can imagine, it prevents them from the kind of satisfaction they would hope to gain.
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, erectile dysfunction, and others are not as rare as you may think, which is why it’s important to learn as much as possible about sexual functioning.
Below is a look at sexual dysfunction in men and women and its implication on sexual activity, sexual behavior, and more.
Understanding Sexual Dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction is a challenge that disrupts the expected sexual response cycle (covered below). Its phases are major contributors to a healthy sexual relationship, which while desirable, may not be as common as people think.
Realistically, sexual dysfunctions are fairly common. For obvious reasons, however, they are not the most comforting prospect to talk about, let alone seeking professional help.
However, you should know that if your sexual functioning is off in any way, there are different treatment options available that can get you back where you need to be.
What Is the Sexual Response Cycle?
As people become aroused and take part in sexual intercourse or other stimulating activities, their bodies will go through a series of emotional and physical changes. It’s always a good idea to note how you function in each stage as it can help you more effectively identify where challenges may lie.
The stages of the cycle are:
- Excitement – Muscle tension, heart rate increase, vaginal lubrication, swelling of testicles
- Plateau – Intensifying of phase one changes, muscle spasms, continued vaginal swelling, testicular tightening
- Orgasm – Involuntary muscle contractions, forceful release of tension, vaginal contractions, ejaculation
- Resolution – Return to normal bodily function, sense of well-being, enhanced intimacy
What Are the Types of Sexual Dysfunction?
Generally speaking, sexual dysfunction will fall under one of four types, which are sexual desire disorders, sexual arousal disorders, orgasmic disorders, and pain disorders. All these are covered in greater detail below.
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Sexual Desire Disorders
Sexual desire disorders are also known as decreased libido. Sometimes the current partner will affect sexual desire negatively or there may be an overall lack of want for sexual activity.
Normal sexual function may precede low sexual desire in some people, while others may have always had a low intensity.
Numerous causes could lead to this kind of sexual dysfunction, which range from a decrease in hormone production, to the aging process, to pregnancy, to psychiatric conditions.
Sexual Arousal Disorders
In men and women, sexual problems stemming from an arousal disorder will often manifest as a general avoidance of or aversion to sexual activity. Men may experience an inability to gain or maintain an erection, or there may simply be a lack of pleasure or excitement from sexual activities.
There could be physiological explanations at play, which may include vaginal dryness or a lack of adequate blood flow.
Of course, the kind of relationship that the partners share may contribute to this as can certain chronic diseases.
Erectile dysfunction is specific to the inability to either get or maintain the penis’ erection. Mental disorders, physical injuries, a lack of sexual interest, etc., could all or individually factor into the equation.
On the physical side of things, erectile dysfunction treatments are usually more difficult while the mental element is often medically treatable.
As the name implies, this kind of sexual dysfunction speaks to either the absence or delay of orgasm.
Typically, there will be a normal sexual excitement phase present, yet there will be a consistent delay or lack of orgasm here. The reasons may be pharmacological, physical, or psychological. In women, for example, menopause is often one of the major reasons for this.
Premature ejaculation can have multiple definitions. On one side of the fence, it’s the occurrence of ejaculation before a partner achieves orgasm. Alternatively, it can be an ejaculation before a mutually satisfactory intercourse length has passed.
Bear in mind that there is no gold standard for how long intercourse should go on. However, it’s often accepted that a time less than two minutes from penile insertion counts as premature.
As the names imply here, these sexual disorders will follow ejaculation or orgasm. For example, there is post-coital tristesse (PCT), which occurs for up to two hours post-orgasm, and is categorized by anxious and melancholy feelings.
Dhet syndrome is another such sexual disorder and causes a dysphoric mood in men following sexual activity.
These kinds of sexual problems are less functional since they speak to pain experienced during intercourse.
In women, one of the most common is vaginismus, which causes the vaginal walls to involuntarily spasm. There’s also dyspareunia, which sees the process of intercourse being painful to women. It tends to come from a lack of lubrication, menopause, pregnancy, etc.
On the men’s side, there is Peyronie’s disease which sees thick fibrous bands cause the penis to have an excessive curve. There’s also priapism, which is an erection that lasts for hours and is painful with no sexual stimulation.
Causes of Sexual Dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction has no singular cause. As you can see from the information provided about the different types above, even two people suffering from the same condition could do so for two completely different reasons. Here’s a look at some of the known culprits.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
This speaks to a variety of disorders that happen because of impairment to the ligaments and muscles of the pelvic floor. Just about have of women who have given birth are affected by this condition, with roughly 15% of men seeing its effects.
It’s identifiable via pressure, pain during intercourse, urinary incontinence, etc. Thankfully, pelvic floor physical therapy is incredibly adept at restoring pelvic floor health and that of surrounding areas.
Female Sexual Dysfunction
As far as challenges with sexual function go, female sexual dysfunction is one of the more complex because of the variables at play. For example, the way a woman perceives her sexual behavior is a very important part of the equation.
There are some for whom it is a chore, which means that they will lose the level of interest needed to make the activity enjoyable. Additionally, if a woman does experience sexual dysfunction at some point in life, the likelihood of confidence loss is high, which can exacerbate the problem.
Sexual assault can also factor into things, leading to genital burning, painful intercourse, lack of pleasure, etc.
Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction
SSRIs are very synonymous with negative sexual symptoms. These may include diminishing erectile function, a lack of libido, numbness of the genitals, and more. In fact, the decline of sexual function is one of the main reasons people stop taking the medication.
Unfortunately, some people find that even after the SSRIs have been discontinued, the symptoms they began to experience persist.
Aging in Women
There’s still some level of controversy surrounding the extent to which menopause translates to sexual arousal disorder or any other sexual dysfunction concerns win women. However, Hayes and Dennerstein’s critical review, alongside other studies, would indicate that the areas of sexual interest, orgasm frequency, and desire, are indeed affected by menopause.
In women, motivation, beliefs and values, and drive are key factors in sexual desire. A fading drive in menopausal women means it loses its place as the initial sexual response step.
Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction
After having identified that a sexual dysfunction disorder is at play and potentially knowing where it stems from. The next step will be treatment and there will be a few options that will depend on the underlying cause:
- Sex therapy: Sometimes a primary clinician can’t address the matter. Sex therapists specialize in helping couples who are having trouble experiencing the kind of satisfaction they want.
- Medicine: These can include hormonal options such as testosterone, medicines for low desire such as bremelanotide and flibanserin, as well as those for erections such as sildenafil or tadalafil.
- Psychotherapy: This will come into play when sexual trauma from the past is the blockage.
- Behavioral treatments: Understanding and curbing sexual behaviors that are harmful come into play here as well as techniques that may help with orgasm and arousal problems.
- Communication and education: Sometimes, simply being open and willing to learn more is enough to overcome the anxiety that is often responsible for sexual dysfunction.
Sexual dysfunction is quite a layered topic spanning different types, causes, and treatment methods. What is certain is that the specific problems being experienced must be investigated as symptoms to discover the root of the problem.
Of course, not all cases are treatable, however, certain kinds, such as those caused by psychological problems can often be taken care of.
Though it can feel like an embarrassing topic, try to normalize communication with your partner, as well as seeking professional help.