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Women and sexual problems

Many women experience sexual dysfunction at some time in their life. This is a medical word that means that you are having problems with sex and are worried about it. Learn about the causes and symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Learn what might help you feel better about your sex life.

Common Sexual Problems

You may have sexual dysfunction if you are distressed by any of the following:

  • You rarely, or never, have a desire to have sex.
  • You are avoiding sex with your partner.
  • You cannot get aroused or cannot stay aroused during sex even if you want sex.
  • You cannot have an orgasm.
  • You have pain during sex.

Common Causes for Sexual Problems

Causes for sexual problems may include:

  • Getting older: a woman's sex drive often decreases with age. This is normal. It can be a problem when one partner wants sex more often than the other.
  • Perimenopause and menopause: You have less estrogen as you get older. This can cause thinning of your skin in the vagina and vaginal dryness. Because of this, sex may be painful.
  • Illnesses can cause problems with sex. Illnesses like cancer, bladder or bowel diseases, arthritis, and headaches may cause sexual problems.
  • Some medicines: Medicine for blood pressure, depression, and chemotherapy can decrease your sex drive or make it hard to have an orgasm.
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship problems with your partner.
  • Having been sexually abused in the past.

How to Make Sex Better

To make sex better, you can:

  • Get plenty of rest and eat well.
  • Limit alcohol, drugs, and smoking.
  • Feel your best. This helps with feeling better about sex.
  • Do Kegel exercises. Tighten and relax your pelvic muscles.
  • Focus on other sexual activities, not just intercourse.
  • Use birth control that works for both you and your partner. Discuss this ahead of time so you are not worried about an unwanted pregnancy.

How to Make Sex Less Painful

To make sex less painful, you can:

  • Spend more time on foreplay. Make sure you are aroused before intercourse.
  • Use a vaginal lubricant for dryness.
  • Try different positions for intercourse.
  • Empty your bladder before sex.
  • Take a warm bath to relax before sex.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider will:

  • Do a physical exam, including a pelvic exam.
  • Ask you about your relationships, current sexual practices, attitude towards sex, other medical problems you might have, medicines you are taking, and other possible symptoms.

Treatment

Get treatment for any other medical problems. This may help with problems with sex.

  • Your provider may be able to change or stop a medicine. This can help with sex problems.
  • Your provider may recommend that you use estrogen tablets or cream to put in and around your vagina. This helps with dryness.
  • If your provider cannot help you, they can refer you to a sex therapist.
  • You and your partner may be referred for counseling to help with relationship problems or to work out bad experiences you have had with sex.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider If:

  • You are distressed by a problem with sex.
  • You are worried about your relationship.
  • You have pain or other symptoms with sex.

Call your provider immediately if:

  • Intercourse is suddenly painful. You may have an infection or other medical problem that needs to be treated now.
  • You think you may have a sexually transmitted infection. You and your partner will want treatment right away.
  • You have a headache or chest pain after sex.

Alternative Names

Frigidity - self-care; Sexual dysfunction - female - self-care

References

Bhasin S, Basson R. Sexual dysfunctin in men and women. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 20.

Shindel AW, Goldstein I. Sexual function and dysfunction in the femaile. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 32.

Swerdloff RS, Wang C. Sexual dysfunction. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 123.

Review Date 11/11/2016

Updated by: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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