Female Sexual Dysfunction
A woman's sexuality is a complex interplay of physical and emotional responses that affects the way she thinks and feels about herself. When a woman has a sexual problem, it can affect many aspects of her life, including her personal relationships and her own self-esteem.
Many women are hesitant to talk about their sexuality with their health care professionals and many health professionals are reluctant to begin a discussion about sexuality with their patients.
Instead, women may needlessly suffer in silence when their problems could be treated.
Sexual Activity includes a wide variety of intimate activities, such as fondling, self-stimulation, oral sex, vaginal penetration and intercourse. Every woman differs in her sexual interest, response and expression. A woman's feelings about sexuality can change according to circumstances and the stages of her life. Women also can experience a variety of sexual problems, such as lack of desire, difficulty becoming aroused, difficulty having an orgasm or pain during sex. When a physical or emotional problem associated with sex persists, it's time to contact a health care professional.
Research on the sexual response in the mid-1960s by Masters & Johnsons established what is known as the traditional sexual-response cycle: desire-arousal-orgasm-resolution.
The stages are defined as follows:
This is the feeling that you want to have sex.
Physical changes occur in your body as you become aroused. The changes include moistening of the vagina, relaxation of the muscles of the vagina; swelling of the labia, (skin folds that are part of the vulva), and the clitoris (a small, sensitive organ above the vagina, where the inner labia, which surrounds the vagina, meet) and that acts as a source of sexual excitement); and lifting of the uterus. There is muscle tension throughout the body and the nipples become erect.
Known as the peak of the sexual response, the muscles of the vagina and uterus contract and create a strong feeling of pleasure.
The body returns to its normal state.
In a new sexual relationship, most women's sexual response can be described with this model. However, more contemporary research suggests that women's sexual response is both more complex and varied than outlined by the traditional sexual-response model when they are in long-term relationships. These differences are important to the understanding of women's sexual health as well as for accurately diagnosing and treating sexual dysfunction in women.
The differences, in part, include recognizing that women's sexual responses are connected more to relationship and intimacy needs than to physical needs than are men's and that the orgasm stage can be highly variable for women before being defined as dysfunctional. Sexual dysfunctions are disturbances in one or more of the sexual response cycle's phases, or pain associated with arousal or intercourse.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association involving a national sample of 1,749 women estimated that sexual dysfunctions occur in 43 percent of women in the United States. According to this 1999 study, you may be at greater risk for sexual problems if you are:
widowed or separated
not a high school graduate
experiencing emotional or stress-related problems
experiencing a decline in your economic position
feeling unhappy, or physically and emotionally unsatisfied
a victim of sexual abuse or forced sexual contact