Currently, there is nothing like Viagra® for women on the market. As a result, problems with female sexual function simply do not get the attention they deserve. It is only a matter of time before a ‘magic purple pill’ for women is perfected and advertised. This may make it easier to discuss sexual function with a doctor.
Do you wonder whether you have a problem with your libido (sex drive) or achieving sexual pleasure? If you answered yes, you belong to the 40 per cent of women who do. But one magic purple pill cannot address all of the issues leading to problems with sexual function. Although female sexual function is complex, most concerns can be treated successfully.
Libido, or desire, is the starting point of sexual function. It is also the most commonly voiced source of problems for women. Libido can vary during a woman’s lifetime.
How do you know whether your desire is appropriate for your stage in life? No set guidelines exist on appropriate sexual activity based on age or relationship status. Desire only becomes a problem when it is a source of stress. If your desire does not align with your emotions, personal beliefs, or relationships, that can cause stress as well.
Your partner’s libido may not be the same as yours. That does not mean that either of you has a problem. You just have different sexual needs. However, this difference can cause tension in a relationship.
Reduced sexual desire can be a result of a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem. A lack of certain hormones can also be an issue. For instance, low testosterone levels sometimes appear around menopause, when menstruation stops.
Emotional stress significantly affects sexual function. Reduced desire may signal an illness like depression and anxiety. If a woman has a poor self-image and is not content with her appearance, she may avoid sexual activity. Experiencing sexual abuse or violence in the past makes a woman twice as likely to have various sexual function problems.
The ability to become sexually aroused is the second part of sexual function. Some women have their usual sex drive, but are not able to become sexually excited. Smoking and excess alcohol intake has been shown to cause problems. Just like libido and achieving orgasm, the ability to become sexually aroused depends on how the body works and on emotional factors.
The third part of sexual function is the ability to reach orgasm. Some women have an intact sex drive and can feel aroused. However, they do not achieve orgasm in spite of prolonged stimulation. Different women need different types and duration of sexual stimulation to achieve an orgasm.
First, a woman should consider whether or not she can achieve orgasm through self-stimulation. Some prescription medications may significantly reduce interest in sexual activity and ability to orgasm. Antidepressants, oral contraceptives, chemotherapy, blood pressure medications, and antihistamines are all on the list. Some medical studies have linked high blood pressure and diabetes with concerns about sexual function. Nervous system disorders, such as spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, can also interfere with achieving sexual climax. This is due to reduced sensation in the genital area. Some women leak urine during intercourse, and find it very distressing. Worrying about losing urine may cause reduced desire and problems in achieving orgasm.
Some women have pain with vaginal contact or during attempts at sexual stimulation. Vaginal infections, painful rashes, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids can make intercourse painful. Chronic constipation or certain bladder conditions could also make it uncomfortable.
Short-term problems with sexual function may occur after having a baby. There can be general tiredness and disturbed sleep, and a transfer of attention from the partner to the new baby. Healing of tears in the vagina or a Caesarean section incision can also contribute.
Once women reach menopause, reduced vaginal lubrication is a frequent reason for pain. Estrogen levels fall during this time, and dryness of the vagina is a natural result. As a woman’s body ages, the pelvic organs can slip out of place (prolapse). This may cause difficulty with intercourse.
Sexual dysfunction in women can come from many factors. It may be a symptom of an illness or disease. It can lead to relationship problems and emotional distress.
If you have symptoms, do not hesitate to discuss them with your doctor. You may feel embarrassed to bring up the topic of sexuality. However, it is very appropriate, and your family doctor addresses concerns like this regularly.
Be prepared to answer personal questions about details of your sexual functioning. Determining which specific aspects of sexual function worry you helps to address your concerns. Your doctor may suspect a problem with how your body is working. In this case, blood tests, a physical exam, a pelvic ultrasound, or meeting with a specialist are all possibilities. Depending on the concerns, your doctor may suggest therapy with a psychologist, relationship counselling, a change of medication, or trying a new medication. Finally, your doctor may recommend a procedure to address an issue with your reproductive system.
Currently, several pharmaceutical companies are working on inventing a magic purple pill for women. Media coverage of such a product could make talking about sexual dysfunctions as comfortable for women as it is for men.
In the meantime, there is no need to wait. Once the conversation with your doctor begins, many options for managing sexual dysfunction are available. The Canadian website www.sexualityandu.ca offers great information for all genders and age groups.