Female Sexual Dysfunction

Last Updated: August 16, 2022

In women, “sexual dysfunction” encompasses many conditions related to one’s ability to have or enjoy sex. Sexual dysfunction may involve issues with desire, arousal, orgasm, or intercourse. Because the causes of sexual dysfunction vary, treatments for the condition also vary.

Female Sexual Dysfunction falls under theHealthy Aging & LongevityandWomen’s Healthcategories.

What is female sexual dysfunction?

“Sexual dysfunction” is a blanket term for conditions that affect a person’s ability to have or enjoy sexual activity. In women, such conditions include:[1]

  • Hypoactive sexual disorder
  • Sexual aversion disorder
  • Female sexual arousal disorder
  • Female orgasmic disorder
  • Dyspareunia
  • Vaginismus
What are the main signs and symptoms of female sexual dysfunction?

The signs and symptoms of sexual dysfunction vary on the condition, but often involve:[2]

  • A lack of sexual desire
  • Difficulty becoming aroused
  • Difficulty having an orgasm, or being unable to have an orgasm
  • Experiencing painful intercourse
How is female sexual dysfunction diagnosed?

Sexual dysfunction is typically diagnosed with a combination of a patient interview, a physical examination (particularly a pelvic exam), and blood tests. Not all sexual dysfunction will have a physiological dimension, so one’s personal emotional/psychological/cultural experience of sex is important to factor in.[3][4]

What are some of the main medical treatments for female sexual dysfunction?

Medical treatment can vary based on the nature of the sexual dysfunction that a person is experiencing, but may include topical or systemic hormone therapy, phosphodiesterase inhibitors, or psychiatric medications such as antidepressants.[1]

Have any supplements been studied for female sexual dysfunction?

Maca is one of the better-studied supplements for libido (in both men and women), and can produce a notable increase in libido. Additionally, tribulus-terrestris may produce a small improvement in libido. A handful of studies have found promising but preliminary effects of fenugreek, eurycoma longifolia, panax ginseng, and rhodiola rosea.

How could diet affect female sexual dysfunction?

Diet primarily influences sexual dysfunction through diet-related health conditions. Undereating (e.g., due to “overdieting” or food insecurity) can suppress libido. Additionally, conditions such as obesity, metabolic-syndrome, and type-2-diabetes can negatively affect sexual function, so dietary practices that are conducive to healthy body weight (i.e., aiming to be neither over- nor underweight) and cardiovascular function are advisable.[5][6]

Are there any other treatments for female sexual dysfunction?

Psychotherapy can be beneficial when sexual dysfunction is related to psychological/emotional factors (such as anxiety, traumatic experience, or poor body image). Similarly, education about genital anatomy and the ways in which healthy sexual function varies can benefit individuals who are concerned about how their bodies/sexual behavior compares to “normal”.[1][3]

Physical activity can benefit sexual dysfunction in a number of ways, including increasing stamina, elevating mood, and potentially improving body image.[7]

Physiotherapy and vaginal dilators can also be useful tools for treating sexual dysfunction, particularly if hypertonicity of the vaginal muscles is involved.[8][9]

What causes female sexual dysfunction?

“Normal” sexual function requires the vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems to function together. As such, issues with any of these symptoms may produce issues with sexual function.[10] Physiological causes of sexual dysfunction can include issues with the genitourinary, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, neurological, and endocrine systems. Emotional, psychological, and cultural causes can include the use of libido-affecting medications, anxiety and depression, traumatic experience, a sexually repressive cultural environment, poor body image, fatigue, and substance abuse.

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  1. ^Frank JE, Mistretta P, Will JDiagnosis and treatment of female sexual dysfunction.Am Fam Physician.(2008-Mar-01)
  2. ^MedlinePlusSexual Problems in Women
  3. ^Emerson CRReview of low libido in women.Int J STD AIDS.(2010-May)
  4. ^Mayo Clinic Female sexual dysfunction
  5. ^Mollaioli D, Ciocca G, Limoncin E, Di Sante S, Gravina GL, Carosa E, Lenzi A, Jannini EAFLifestyles and sexuality in men and women: the gender perspective in sexual medicine.Reprod Biol Endocrinol.(2020-Feb-17)
  6. ^Towe M, La J, El-Khatib F, Roberts N, Yafi FA, Rubin RDiet and Female Sexual Health.Sex Med Rev.(2020-Apr)
  7. ^Maseroli E, Rastrelli G, Di Stasi V, Cipriani S, Scavello I, Todisco T, Gironi V, Castellini G, Ricca V, Sorbi F, Fambrini M, Petraglia F, Maggi M, Vignozzi LPhysical Activity and Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Lot Helps, But Not Too Much.J Sex Med.(2021-07)
  8. ^Rosenbaum TYPhysiotherapy treatment of sexual pain disorders.J Sex Marital Ther.(2005)
  9. ^Verbeek M, Hayward LPelvic Floor Dysfunction And Its Effect On Quality Of Sexual Life.Sex Med Rev.(2019-10)
  10. ^Dirk Rösing, Klaus-Jürgen Klebingat, Hermann J Berberich, Hartmut A G Bosinski, Kurt Loewit, Klaus M BeierMale sexual dysfunction: diagnosis and treatment from a sexological and interdisciplinary perspectiveDtsch Arztebl Int.(2009 Dec)
  11. ^Hamilton LD, Meston CMChronic stress and sexual function in women.J Sex Med.(2013-Oct)
  12. ^Ter Kuile MM, Vigeveno D, Laan EPreliminary evidence that acute and chronic daily psychological stress affect sexual arousal in sexually functional women.Behav Res Ther.(2007-Sep)
  13. ^Mayo Clinic StaffFemal Sexual Dysfunction
  14. ^Simon JAIdentifying and treating sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women: the role of estrogen.J Womens Health (Larchmt).(2011-Oct)
  15. ^Kovalevsky GFemale sexual dysfunction and use of hormone therapy in postmenopausal women.Semin Reprod Med.(2005-May)
  16. ^Stanton AM, Handy AB, Meston CMThe Effects of Exercise on Sexual Function in Women.Sex Med Rev.(2018-Oct)
  17. ^Sun AJ, Eisenberg MLAssociation Between Marijuana Use and Sexual Frequency in the United States: A Population-Based Study.J Sex Med.(2017-11)
  18. ^Smith AM, Ferris JA, Simpson JM, Shelley J, Pitts MK, Richters JCannabis use and sexual health.J Sex Med.(2010-Feb)
  19. ^Kasman AM, Bhambhvani HP, Wilson-King G, Eisenberg MLAssessment of the Association of Cannabis on Female Sexual Function With the Female Sexual Function Index.Sex Med.(2020-Dec)
Examine Database References
  1. Libido - de Souza KZ, Vale FB, Geber SEfficacy of Tribulus terrestris for the treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in postmenopausal women: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trialMenopause.(2016 Nov)
  2. Libido - Akhtari E, Raisi F, Keshavarz M, Hosseini H, Sohrabvand F, Bioos S, Kamalinejad M, Ghobadi ATribulus terrestris for treatment of sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo - controlled studyDaru.(2014 Apr 28)
  3. Libido - Gama CR, Lasmar R, Gama GF, Abreu CS, Nunes CP, Geller M, Oliveira L, Santos AClinical Assessment of Tribulus terrestris Extract in the Treatment of Female Sexual DysfunctionClin Med Insights Womens Health.(2014 Dec 22)
  4. Libido - Vale FBC, Zanolla Dias de Souza K, Rezende CR, Geber SEfficacy of Tribulus Terrestris for the treatment of premenopausal women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder: a randomized double-blinded, placebo-controlled trialGynecol Endocrinol.(2018 May)
  5. Libido - Meston CM, Rellini AH, Telch MJShort- and long-term effects of Ginkgo biloba extract on sexual dysfunction in womenArch Sex Behav.(2008 Aug)
  6. Libido - Wheatley DTriple-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Ginkgo biloba in sexual dysfunction due to antidepressant drugsHum Psychopharmacol.(2004 Dec)
  7. Libido - Morales A, Black A, Emerson L, Barkin J, Kuzmarov I, Day AAndrogens and sexual function: a placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study of testosterone vs. dehydroepiandrosterone in men with sexual dysfunction and androgen deficiencyAging Male.(2009 Dec)
  8. Libido - Conaglen HM, Suttie JM, Conaglen JVEffect of deer velvet on sexual function in men and their partners: a double-blind, placebo-controlled studyArch Sex Behav.(2003 Jun)
  9. Libido - Harte CB, Meston CMThe inhibitory effects of nicotine on physiological sexual arousal in nonsmoking women: results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trialJ Sex Med.(2008 May)
  10. Sexual Function - Brooks NA, Wilcox G, Walker KZ, Ashton JF, Cox MB, Stojanovska LBeneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen contentMenopause.(2008 Nov-Dec)
  11. Sexual Function - Dording CM, Schettler PJ, Dalton ED, Parkin SR, Walker RS, Fehling KB, Fava M, Mischoulon DA double-blind placebo-controlled trial of maca root as treatment for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in womenEvid Based Complement Alternat Med.(2015)
  12. Sexual Function - Kashani L, Raisi F, Saroukhani S, Sohrabi H, Modabbernia A, Nasehi AA, Jamshidi A, Ashrafi M, Mansouri P, Ghaeli P, Akhondzadeh SSaffron for treatment of fluoxetine-induced sexual dysfunction in women: randomized double-blind placebo-controlled studyHum Psychopharmacol.(2013 Jan)
  13. Depression Symptoms - Sue Gessler, Michael King, Alessandra Lemma, Julie Barber, Louise Jones, Susan Dunning, Val Madden, Stephen Pilling, Rachael Hunter, Peter Fonagy, Karen Summerville, Nicola MacDonald, Adeola Olaitan, Anne LanceleyStepped approach to improving sexual function after gynaecological cancer: the SAFFRON feasibility RCTHealth Technol Assess.(2019 Feb)