Female sexual dysfunction refers to persistent or recurrent problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm, or pain that cause distress or strain in a woman’s intimate relationship. Many women experience sexual function issues at some point in their lives, and for some, these difficulties persist throughout their lifetime. Female sexual dysfunction can manifest in specific sexual situations or across all sexual encounters.

Symptoms of Female Sexual Dysfunction

Female sexual dysfunction can present in various ways, depending on the specific type:

  • Low sexual desire: A lack of sexual interest and willingness to engage in sexual activity
  • Sexual arousal disorder: Difficulty with arousal or the inability to become aroused or maintain arousal during sexual activity
  • Orgasmic disorder: Persistent or recurrent difficulty in achieving orgasm despite sufficient sexual arousal and stimulation
  • Sexual pain disorder: Pain associated with sexual stimulation or vaginal contact

When to Seek Medical Help

If sexual problems are affecting your relationship or causing concern, it is essential to make an appointment with your doctor for a comprehensive evaluation.

Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction

Female sexual dysfunction can arise due to various factors, many of which are interrelated:

  • Physical factors: Medical conditions such as cancer, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and bladder problems can lead to sexual dysfunction. Additionally, certain medications, including antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, and chemotherapy medications, may decrease sexual desire and orgasmic response.
  • Hormonal changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as lower estrogen levels after menopause, can lead to changes in genital tissues and sexual responsiveness. Decreased estrogen levels may result in reduced blood flow to the pelvic region, leading to decreased genital sensation and longer time needed for arousal and achieving orgasm. Hormonal shifts also occur after childbirth and during breastfeeding, leading to vaginal dryness and potential impacts on sexual desire.
  • Psychological and social factors: Untreated anxiety or depression can contribute to sexual dysfunction, as can chronic stress and a history of sexual abuse. The demands of pregnancy and new motherhood may also affect sexual responsiveness. Conflicts with a partner, cultural and religious issues, and body image concerns may also play a role.

Risk Factors for Female Sexual Dysfunction

Several factors may increase the risk of experiencing female sexual dysfunction:

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Heart and blood vessel disease
  • Neurological conditions, such as spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis
  • Gynecological conditions, including vulvovaginal atrophy, infections, or lichen sclerosus
  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants or high blood pressure medications
  • Emotional or psychological stress, particularly related to the relationship with a partner
  • A history of sexual abuse

From Project Semicolon to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health.


To diagnose female sexual dysfunction, your doctor may:

  • Discuss your sexual and medical history: Openly sharing your sexual history and current issues is crucial for an effective evaluation.
  • Perform a pelvic exam: Your doctor will check for physical changes that may affect sexual enjoyment, such as thinning of genital tissues, decreased skin elasticity, scarring, or pain.
  • Order blood tests: Blood tests may be recommended to identify underlying health conditions that could contribute to sexual dysfunction.

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

Treatment Options

It’s important to remember that sexual dysfunction only requires treatment if it bothers you. Treatment for female sexual dysfunction can vary depending on symptoms and causes. Communicating your concerns and understanding your body’s normal sexual response are essential in choosing the right treatment and assessing its effectiveness.

Nonmedical Treatment for Female Sexual Dysfunction

Nonmedical strategies your doctor might recommend:

  • Talk and listen: Open communication with your partner is crucial for sexual satisfaction.
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits: Limit alcohol, be physically active, and find ways to decrease stress to enhance romantic feelings.
  • Seek counseling: Talk with a therapist specializing in sexual and relationship issues.
  • Use a lubricant: A vaginal lubricant may be helpful for vaginal dryness or pain during sex.
  • Try a device: A vibrator can provide clitoral stimulation to enhance arousal.

Medical Treatment for Female Sexual Dysfunction

Medical treatments may address underlying medical conditions or hormonal changes:

  • Estrogen therapy: Localized estrogen therapy improves sexual function by enhancing vaginal tone, elasticity, blood flow, and lubrication.
  • Ospemifene (Osphena): Helps reduce pain during sex for women with vulvovaginal atrophy.
  • Androgen therapy: Controversial, androgen therapy can benefit women with low testosterone levels and sexual dysfunction.
  • Flibanserin (Addyi): Approved for low sexual desire in premenopausal women, it may boost sex drive when distressing. Requires monitoring for side effects.
  • Bremelanotide (Vyleesi): Another FDA-approved treatment for low sexual desire in premenopausal women, it’s an injectable medication.

Potential Treatments Requiring More Research

Agents needing more research for female sexual dysfunction treatment:

  • Tibolone: Not approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. due to safety concerns.
  • Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: Inconsistent results in treating female sexual dysfunction.

Alternative Medicine

Alternative therapies that may help improve sexual satisfaction:

  • Mindfulness: Increased awareness and acceptance of the present moment.
  • Acupuncture: May have positive effects on libido and lubrication difficulties.
  • Yoga: Certain subsets of yoga aim to channel sexual energy and improve sexual functioning.

Note that herbal supplements and topical oils may be available, but their effectiveness and safety require more research.

Coping and Support

To adapt to changes in sexual desire and satisfaction:

  • Understand your body and what promotes a healthy sexual response.
  • Gather information about factors that may affect your sex life.
  • Communicate openly with your partner and remain flexible in intimacy.
  • Accept changes and explore new aspects of your sexuality.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you have ongoing sexual difficulties, make an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to provide information about your symptoms, sexual history, and medical history. Ask questions and be open about your concerns to receive the best care.

Find Treatment

Your impact doubles

This month, your gift has the power to change lives. By supporting Project Semicolon, you're making sure no one ever has to struggle alone. Your gift by August 1st. will be matched and have twice the impact on mental health, and suicide prevention.