Understanding female sexual dysfunction


In this article:

  • Research shows female sexual dysfunction (FSD) affects a large percentage of the country’s population.

  • Some of the most common sexual issues are pain during sex, low desire, difficulty getting pleasure and having an orgasm.

  • Health expert, Dr. Melanie Santos, M.D., FACOG, FPMRS, answers your questions about FSD and explains why good sexual health is vital to your overall wellbeing.

If you’re like many people, there’s a good possibility you’ve had issues with your sexual health at some point in your life. Research shows a large percentage of people in the United States have experienced problems with their sexual health, either at different times or throughout their lives.

Sexual health plays a fundamental role in many aspects of our lives. It includes our physical, emotional, mental and social wellbeing as they relate to sexuality. Good sexual health is about more than the absence of disease or dysfunction. It requires a respectful, positive approach to sexuality that promotes pleasurable, safe sexual experiences free of discrimination, coercion or violence, according to the World Health Organization.

“It can be all-too-easy to dismiss the impact sexual issues have on our lives as ‘just sex,’ but sexual health is an essential component of a healthy life overall,” says Melanie Santos, M.D., FACOG, FPMRS, medical director of pelvic health for St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, California.

Dr. Santos helps her patients discover solutions to health challenges affecting their quality of life. She offers insights into female sexual dysfunction (FSD) and answers questions about this problem shared by so many.

What is female sexual dysfunction?

Dr. Santos: Sexual disorders are also called sexual dysfunction. Both terms refer to persistent, repeated problems that keep you from enjoying sex fully – or at all in some cases. Sexual dysfunction may occur before, during or after sex. It can affect you at different intervals or be an issue throughout your life.

It’s not unusual for your sex life to ebb and flow at different stages throughout your life. But if issues happen repeatedly and affect your life or relationships, it could be FSD.

Some of the most common sexual problems are:

  • Low sexual desire or interest
  • Difficulty or inability to become aroused
  • Lack of sexual climax or orgasm even with sufficient sexual arousal and stimulation
  • Pain during sex

What causes female sexual dysfunction?

Dr. Santos: A variety of psychological, physical and social factors can all contribute to FSD, including:

  • Depression
  • Hormone changes caused by menopause, childbirth, breastfeeding or other triggers
  • Problems in your relationship(s)
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Negative sexual experiences
  • Emotional, sexual or physical abuse
  • Some medical conditions, such as kidney failure, cancer and heart disease
  • Some medications, including high blood pressure medicine or antidepressants

When is it time to call my physician?

Dr. Santos: Remember that sexual dysfunction is only a problem if it bothers you. But if your issue lingers for more than a few months or begins to affect your relationship, it may be time to consult your physician.

Although it can be challenging to talk about sexual matters, they significantly impact your wellbeing. You’ll increase your chances of success if you’re honest and upfront about any problems you’re experiencing.

What are the treatment options for female sexual dysfunction?

Dr. Santos: People with FSD often get good results with a treatment approach that addresses all areas of the issue, including the physical, mental and emotional factors that contribute to your problem.

Diagnosis typically begins with a frank conversation about your sexual history and the problems that you’re having. It may include a physical exam, a pelvic exam and blood tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could affect your sexual health. You may be referred to a counselor or a therapist for additional care.

Treatment options include:

  • Talking to a counselor or therapist
  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular physical activity, sufficient sleep and limited alcohol use
  • Medication, including antidepressants or hormone therapy


Contributing Caregiver

Melanie Santos M.D., FACOG, FPMRS is an expert on health issues affecting women today. 

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Related resources

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Women’s health: Everything you need to know

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.



About the Author

The Providence Women's Health team is committed to providing useful and actionable insights, tips and advice to ensure women of all types can live their healthiest lives.

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