Sexual Dysfunction

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To diagnose female sexual dysfunction, your doctor may:

  • Discuss your sexual and medical history. You might be uneasy talking with your doctor about such personal matters, but your sexuality is a key part of your well-being. The more upfront you can be about your sexual history and current problems, the better your chances of finding an effective way to treat them.
  • Perform a pelvic exam. During the exam, your doctor checks for physical changes that affect your sexual enjoyment, such as thinning of your genital tissues, decreased skin elasticity, scarring or pain.
  • Order blood tests. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to check for underlying health conditions that might contribute to sexual dysfunction.

Your doctor may also refer you to a counselor or therapist specializing in sexual and relationship problems.

 

Treatment

Keep in mind that sexual dysfunction is a problem only if it bothers you. If it doesn’t bother you, there’s no need for treatment.

Because female sexual dysfunction has many possible symptoms and causes, treatment varies. It’s important for you to communicate your concerns, as well as to understand your body and its normal sexual response. Also, your goals for your sex life are important for choosing a treatment and evaluating whether or not it’s working for you.

Women with sexual concerns most often benefit from a combined treatment approach that addresses medical as well as relationship and emotional issues.

 

Nonmedical treatment for female sexual dysfunction

To treat sexual dysfunction, your doctor might recommend that you start with these strategies:

  • Talk and listen. Open communication with your partner makes a world of difference in your sexual satisfaction. Even if you’re not used to talking about your likes and dislikes, learning to do so and providing feedback in a nonthreatening way sets the stage for greater intimacy.
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits. Limit alcohol — drinking too much can blunt your sexual responsiveness. Be physically active — regular physical activity can increase your stamina and elevate your mood, enhancing romantic feelings. Learn ways to decrease stress so you can focus on and enjoy sexual experiences.
  • Seek counseling. Talk with a counselor or therapist who specializes in sexual and relationship problems. Therapy often includes education about how to optimize your body’s sexual response, ways to enhance intimacy with your partner, and recommendations for reading materials or couples exercises.
  • Use a lubricant. A vaginal lubricant may be helpful during intercourse if you have vaginal dryness or pain during sex.
  • Try a device. Arousal may be enhanced with stimulation of the clitoris. Use a vibrator to provide clitoral stimulation.
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy administered by a licensed and specially trained physical therapist in treating pelvic floor dysfunction; may be covered by some insurances.

 

Medical treatment for female sexual dysfunction

Effective treatment for sexual dysfunction often requires addressing an underlying medical condition or hormonal change. Your doctor may suggest changing a medication you’re taking or prescribing a new one.

Possible treatments for female sexual dysfunction might include:

  • Estrogen therapy. Localized estrogen therapy comes in the form of a vaginal ring, cream or tablet. This therapy benefits sexual function by improving vaginal tone and elasticity, increasing vaginal blood flow and enhancing lubrication.
    The risks of hormone therapy may vary depending on your age, your risk of other health issues such as heart and blood vessel disease and cancer, the dose and type of hormone and whether estrogen is given alone or with a progestin.
    Talk with your doctor about benefits and risks. In some cases, hormonal therapy might require close monitoring by your doctor.
  • Ospemifene (Osphena). This medication is a selective estrogen receptor modulator. It helps reduce pain during sex for women with vulvovaginal atrophy.
  • Androgen therapy. Androgens include testosterone. Testosterone plays a role in healthy sexual function in women as well as men, although women have much lower levels of testosterone.
    Androgen therapy for sexual dysfunction is controversial. Some studies show a benefit for women who have low testosterone levels and develop sexual dysfunction; other studies show little or no benefit.
  • Flibanserin (Addyi). Originally developed as an antidepressant, flibanserin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for low sexual desire in premenopausal women.
    A daily pill, Addyi may boost sex drive in women who experience low sexual desire and find it distressing. Potentially serious side effects include low blood pressure, sleepiness, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and fainting, particularly if the drug is mixed with alcohol. Experts recommend that you stop taking the drug if you don’t notice an improvement in your sex drive after eight weeks.
  • Bremelanotide (Vyleesi). Bremelanotide is another FDA-approved treatment for low sexual desire in premenopausal women. This medication is an injection you give yourself just under the skin in the belly or thigh before anticipated sexual activity.
    Some women experience nausea, which is more common after the first injection but tends to improve with the second injection. Other side effects include vomiting, flushing, headache and a skin reaction at the site of the injection.

Issues surrounding female sexual dysfunction are usually complex, so even the best medications aren’t likely to work if other emotional or social factors remain unresolved.

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