Sexual Function

A Woman's Source to Explore Help for
Issues of Sexual Health

An active, enjoyable sex life can be an important component of physical and emotional health, and can significantly enhance quality of life.  Sometimes, though, physical or psychological conditions can compromise this aspect of life.  Women may seek care if sexual activity is uncomfortable or not adequately pleasurable from an emotional or physical perspective.  The staff of our Center for Gynecology & Women's Health can help evaluate, counsel, and treat or refer women for these concerns.

Women for whom sex is not satisfying or positive are not alone.  Most women experience this problem at one time or another, or at least passingly; in fact, sexual problems are common in both women and men.  But if woman's concerns in this area are ongoing and of a nature that makes her unhappy, causes significant stresses in her relationship, or detracts from her quality of life, she may want to seek care.

Sexuality in women is defined by a complicated set of factors and involves the dual need for emotional intimacy and physical release.  Everyone is different when it comes to desire for and response to sex – and the range from one person to the next can be vast.  Interest in and pleasure from sex, as well as other sexual factors, can vary considerably.  These factors may relate to previous sexual history, age, personality, life situation, stress, hormonal levels, and other variables.

Among conditions for which women seek care are:

  • anorgasmia.  The spectrum of normalcy in women’s ability to achieve orgasm is very broad.   Not all women are able to achieve orgasm; however, addressing physical or emotional concerns or conditions can enhance ability to do so.  Added difficulty in achieving orgasm can also be a side effect of medications, substance abuse, past sexual experiences, or other causes.
  • difficulty in arousal.  Some women experience challenges and decreased ability in becoming aroused.  This circumstance can result from side effects of medication; lack of a respectful, caring, and satisfying partner; stress or exhaustion; inadequate time and privacy needed to relax; physical or mental exhaustion; and unhappy experiences with sex or intimacy in the past.
  • pain or discomfort during intercourse.  Pain during intercourse can have a number of causes that may be physical, emotional, or both.  Changes in the vagina, due to dryness or stiffness, sometimes resulting from aging is a common cause.  Physical abnormalities such as strictures or adhesions affecting the vagina or other gynecologic areas or organs can cause discomfort during intercourse, as can a number of gynecologic issues such as infections, as well ovarian cysts and other conditions that can cause pelvic pain.  Painful tightening or contraction of the vagina during intercourse (vaginismus), due to anxiety or previous sexual trauma, is also a cause.
  • lack of sexual desire.  This situation can result from emotional conditions or situational circumstances.  Issues of age, hormonal changes, relationship problems, concerns about previous medical conditions or body image, physical or mental fatigue, psychological issues, or other factors can suppress interest in sexual activity.

In addition, a long list of physical conditions can contribute to sexual problems, and any significant physical condition can detract from interest in, pleasure from, and ability to participate in sex.  Such common conditions, as diabetes or orthopedic problems, for example, can make sex uncomfortable.

The staff at our women's center can help a woman feel comfortable asking questions and addressing sexual concerns.  The center's caring healthcare providers also know what questions to review to help identify a sexual-function problem and its basis.  Through taking a history of a woman's concern and sometimes performing physical examination or other testing, they can help a woman to better understand her concerns and their cause.   

Sometimes simple suggestions or solutions can make a significant difference.  For example, vaginal application of estrogen creams, lubricants, and other interventions can often be effective for increasing the comfort and pleasurable nature of sexual activity.  Other times, additional therapeutic counseling, sometimes with a sex therapist, can make a big difference.  Treatment can also range to medication adjustments, hormone therapy, surgery, life style interventions, and other steps.  The center's staff can evaluate and help manage a woman's challenges with sexual function.