Female Sexual Dysfunction: Fast Facts

  • According to the American Medical Association, approximately 43 percent of U.S. women (and 31 percent of men) have experienced some form of sexual dysfunction at some time.
  • Any persistent, pervasive problem that routinely interferes with a woman's ability to achieve sexual gratification and causes her distress is female sexual dysfunction.
  • The normal stages of sexual response include excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution.
  • Sexual desire disorders involve an absence of sexual fantasy or desire.
  • Sexual arousal disorders involve problems with any of body's normal mechanisms of arousal, including the erection of nipples and vaginal lubrication.
  • Orgasmic disorders involve a lack or delay in orgasm.
  • Sexual pain disorders involve any source of pain in the vagina, clitoris or labia.
  • Smoking and/or drinking alcohol can affect not only the prognosis or treatment of a medical condition, but also your sexual function.
  • During menopause, sexual response and a general interest in sex may diminish.
  • Underlying medical and psychological conditions that can lead to female sexual dysfunction include diabetes, heart disease, endometriosis and arthritis.
  • Sexual dysfunction may also occur due to a serious illness that physically alters a woman's body and body image, such as breast or gynecologic cancer.
  • As many as half of all breast cancer patients experience some form of long-term sexual difficulties, according to the National Cancer Institute.
  • Following a diagnosis of cancer or chronic disease, it is normal for a woman to experience anxieties that can impede her ability to express her sexuality and trigger concerns about her sexual desirability.
  • Hormonal changes, often related to pregnancy, menopause or female cancers, can lead to vaginal dryness or vaginal atrophy, in which the shape and flexibility of the vagina gradually decline.
  • Psychological reasons may be expressed as anxieties or fears that cause a woman difficulty with one or more of the aspects of sexual intimacy.
  • Patient education and reassurance, combined with early diagnosis and treatment, are the keys to effective treatment of female sexual dysfunction.
  • If the underlying cause of the sexual dysfunction is medical, then effective treatment must first address the condition or disease.
  • It is helpful for a woman to communicate her feelings about any physical changes, such as the loss of a breast due to breast cancer, with her partner.
  • There are many over-the-counter creams, gels and lubricants that work well to alleviate vaginal dryness.

Reviewed by Steven A. King, M.D.

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