According to the American Medical Association, approximately 43 percent of U.S. women have experienced some form of sexual dysfunction at some time in their life. If you are among these women, you may feel stressed, frustrated, embarrassed or confused about the problems that prevent you from having gratifying sexual experiences. However, you do not have to be plagued by sexual dysfunction forever. The condition can be treated and you can get your sex life back.
If you are experiencing female sexual dysfunction, there are a number of tips you can follow to help you to cope with your condition, make it go away and keep it from returning. These include:
- Treat your medical conditions. If the underlying cause of your sexual dysfunction is medical, then effective treatment must first address the condition or disease. For example, if you have endometriosis, you may require surgery. Endometriosis is the spread of cells from the inner wall of your uterus to tissues outside your uterus. Once the underlying medical condition is treated, you may find that you can return to the same healthy sex life you enjoyed before the condition began.
- Get psychological help. If you have sexual dysfunction that originates from a psychological source, such as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (a condition characterized by a persistent absence of sexual fantasy or desire), you may find mental health therapy very helpful. Other psychological sources of sexual dysfunction include anxiety due to a history of physical or sexual abuse. In many cases, sex therapy from a professional counselor can greatly help in the treatment of female sexual dysfunction.
- Be patient. Many women experiencing female sexual dysfunction due to a medical condition may have unrealistic expectations of how soon normal sexual relations will resume. It is important to realize that an interruption in your usual ability to experience sexual pleasure is perfectly normal. After treatment for cancer, for example, it may be best for you and your partner to schedule quiet time together and start slowly.
- Talk to your partner. Perhaps the most important step in treating sexual dysfunction is keeping communication open between you and your partner. Communicate your feelings about any physical changes, such as loss of a breast due to breast cancer, with your partner. Be open about how you may work though any anxiety about loss of a body part or gynecologic changes and the remaining scars with your partner.
- Try nonprescription drugs for vaginal dryness. Many women choose hormone replacement therapy, also called HRT, or estrogen creams to reduce pain during intercourse. However, these medications can have serious side effects and health risks and may not be recommended for certain individuals. There are many over-the-counter creams, gels and lubricants that work well to alleviate vaginal dryness.
- Pay attention to your medications. Many medications that are commonly prescribed for women can have sexual side effects. Check your medication labels for the possibility of such side effects and talk to you doctor about any alternatives to your current medications that may have fewer sexual side effects.
- Don't smoke or drink. Smoking or drinking alcohol can affect not only the prognosis or treatment of a medical condition, but also your sexual function.
- Educate yourself. This includes finding information and education about your body, sexual signals and receptors, and sexuality changes during and after pregnancy and during menopause. Your body will change over time. Knowing what to expect can help you avoid the anxiety that may cause sexual dysfunction.
Periods of sexual dysfunction are not always preventable, but they are treatable. With patience, time and open communication with both your partner and your doctor, you will soon be on the road to better sexual health.
Reviewed by Steven A. King, M.D.