Multiple Causes in Women’s Sexual Health

Women’s sexual problems often involve multiple personal physical, emotional and relational factors and can’t be simply sorted into “physical” and “psychological” causes.
Women’s sexual health issues fall into two broad categories:
  • Low desire – which can be emotional or physical in origin 
  • Difficulties with physical sex - eg pain during sex, or not being able to reach arousal or orgasm
Experiencing a lack of desire is very common for many women at different times of their lives, depending on changes associated with pregnancy and child birth, hormonal balance, work and family stresses and general health.

Sydney sex specialist Dr Rosie King is one of many sex therapists who advise a lack of interest in sex or an inactive sex life is only a “problem” if the woman is unhappy with her state or the situation is the source of tension in an intimate relationship.
 

Female Sexual Dysfunction – the New Disease

Some vocal critics of the new push from pharmaceutical companies to “solving” female sexual dysfunction with a new drug, say they are “medicalising” a normal condition and creating new diseases like HSDD (hypoactive sexual desire disorder) and FSD (female sexual dysfunction) for profit.

At the heart of the question about how to measure women’s sexual health lies the issue of what model of sexual response is being used. Critics of the push to create new categories of “female sexual dysfunction” say the doctors and pharmaceutical companies involved are using an out dated model of arousal followed by orgasm which is much more appropriate for men than women.

“It’s being treated as a biological phenomenon rather than an incredibly complex phenomenon that is shaped by cultural scripting, family-of-origin experience, relationship dynamics as well as biological factors." psychologist Dennis Sugrue, PhD, a past-president of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

Untangling what sexual health causes are psychological and what are physical is even more complicated for women than men.

Doctors used to believe that women's complaints of sexual dysfunction were 90% psychological, 10% biological. "Now the thinking is 90% psychological, 75% organic," says sex specialist Dr Irwin Goldstein. 

What he means is that most sexual pain has a biological cause, but it usually also causes psychological issues. If sex hurts, you learn to fear it and avoid it.
 

Low Libido or Low Desire

Dr Rosie King in Where Did My Libido Go? (Random House, 2010) says low sex drive is so common as to be “normal” for many women once the flush of first love, driven by a cocktail of neuro-chemcials fades within 18 months to three years.

A woman’s sexual desire is influenced by everything that happens in her day, and is particularly affected by psychological factors like stress, anxiety, depression or feelings of being taken for granted and unloved, and boredom with routine. It can relate to negative past sexual experience, past abuse, or family or cultural history.

Physical factors behind low sex drive include some chronic disease like diabetes, and side effects of medications like anti-depressants and anti hypertensives. (Low desire is what “new” medicine calls hypoactive sexual desire disorder - HSDD)

Doctors who specialise in women’s sexual health say “it’s usually not just one thing” that causes problems. Physical sex problems usually create a psychological or emotional issues as well, and vice versa.
 

Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction

Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) may be experienced as
  • Difficulty in arousal
May be caused by lack of natural lubrication (which in turn may be caused by hormonal imbalance or lack of blood flow)
  • Difficulty is reaching orgasm
May be caused by past personal experience like a sexual trauma, guilt, inhibition, or physical factors like side effects of medications or chronic illness
  • Painful intercourse
May be caused by endometriosis, poor lubrication, scar tissue from previous surgery, vaginitis (vaginal infection or inflammation) or vaginismus, a painful involuntary muscle spasm.

The physical causes behind all of these conditions affecting women’s sexual health can be related to:
  • Reduced genital blood flow - Diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Hormonal imbalance - Menopause, breast-feeding, birth control pills, and thyroid problems can dampen sexual desire
  • Medication side effects – Antidepressants and chemotherapy agents such as tamoxifen, which stops estrogen working
  • Nerve damage - Pelvic surgery can cause nerve damage, as can diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's
  • Pill-caused sexual pain  - Doctors are seeing increased numbers of young women with the vaginal atrophy and lack of lubrication typical of menopausal women, from the newer birth control pill formulations with very low estrogen and a type of progestin which lowers testosterone. These younger women need lubrication to achieve pain-free intercourse.
 

Will Vaginal Reconstruction Improve Sex?

Web MD reports advertised procedures, such as "vaginal rejuvenation" surgeries, promise to increase sexual pleasure. But the medical experts warn: such surgeries are costly and painful, they may not provide any benefit and they may cause harm.
 

What to Do If You Have a Sexual Health Problem

There a whole range of women’s sexual health treatments available for managing the causes of women’s sexual health problems, from lifestyle changes to asking for a change to your prescription medicine.

The most important thing is to think through what you want, get a better understanding of your own health needs, and then seek the appropriate medical or counselling help to solve the issue.

Herbal products with a long history in traditional medicine like Ignite for Women may offer one solution. 
You may require assistance from a lubricant like Ignite gel. You may combine these kinds of sexual support products with a new commitment to opening up more relationally with your partner and explaining what you are feeling.

The important thing in finding answers for the cause to women’s sexual health issues is to get started – there is a wealth of information and support available if you look for it.