Dr Goh Lit Ching, DTAP Clinic
Like in men, sexual problems or dysfunction are fairly common amongst women, but often underreported and not openly discussed with friends and family. These issues can range from recurring problems with sexual response, desire, orgasm, or pain that causes distress in a woman.
Usually, the typical response cycle consists of four stages: desire (excitement stage), arousal (plateau phase), orgasm (climax), and resolution. Inability to achieve any one of these stages will disrupt sexual satisfaction and create issues down the line.
How Common is Sexual Dysfunction in Women?
A recent survey study of Singaporean women reports that 38.3% have experienced sexual problems and 22% have reported sexual pain in the genitalia.
Types of Sexual Dysfunction
The 4 types of sexual dysfunction also correspond with the stages of the response cycle. Commonly reported symptoms of sexual dysfunction can be categorised under the following:
Low Libido/Sexual Desire - This condition refers to a lack of interest in sex or low willingness to participate in sexual activity.
Sexual Arousal Disorder - Though sexual desire remains intact, a woman may find difficulty in becoming aroused or there is an apparent inability to maintain the necessary level of arousal throughout the sexual process.
Orgasmic Disorder - In some women, orgasms may be delayed or may not even occur at all (anorgasmia) even after sufficient sexual arousal and stimulation. This can potentially create a vicious cycle that results in a woman losing interest in sex due to the inability to achieve an orgasm. Further studies have determined that an estimated 7% - 10% of women have experienced some sort of anorgasmia.
Sexual Pain Disorder - As the name suggests, this refers to any pain experienced during any stage of intercourse (dyspareunia), which could potentially lead to frustration for both parties due to unsuccessful and unpleasurable intercourse experience.
Causes and Treatment of Female Sexual Dysfunction
While there are many causes of sexual dysfunction, they can be divided into three major categories.
Chronic medical causes such as cancer, diabetes, or heart diseases may contribute to the way one’s body responds to sexual stimulation.
Previous history of surgery or radiation therapy can contribute to vaginal dryness and painful intercourse due to scar tissues present at the surgical site.
Consumption of long term medications such as antidepressants or blood pressure medication.
Underlying gynaecological conditions, such as vaginismus or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD).
In most cases, maintaining a healthy lifestyle which includes no smoking and alcohol as well as regular exercises will be able to boost sexual health. If the dysfunction is caused by medication, then a switch to a different class of medications may alleviate the issues.
Additionally, devices such as a vaginal dilator may help to gradually train pelvic floor muscles and alleviate painful intercourse, especially for women suffering from vaginismus.
If there is a risk of underlying undetected vaginal infections, it is important to get yourself tested and treated immediately at the clinic.
Certain stages of life such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause can also contribute to a woman’s sexual dysfunction due to an imbalance in hormones. For example, hormonal shifts during pregnancy or breastfeeding can potentially contribute to vaginal dryness which could result in painful intercourse.
Vaginal dryness can be resolved with topical lubricants, while Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy sessions can help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, especially after undergoing a major bodily change such as postpartum or postmenopausal.
Sexual dysfunction can also occur due to mood disorders such as anxiety or depression or body image issues, which can affect one’s confidence level and ability to have a fulfilling sexual experience. Apart from that, long-standing conflict or relationship issues with one’s partner can also affect sexual responsiveness and willingness to participate in a sexual activity.
Mood disorders can be alleviated by counselling sessions, while long-standing issues with one’s partner may require couple counselling sessions with a clinical sexologist. Most importantly however, is to ensure constant communication and support is had with your partner in order to understand each other’s wants and needs.
To summarise, sexual dysfunction amongst women is commonplace, but most cases are reversible with the correct approach, so do not wait or suffer in silence. Talk to your doctor today and get on the right track to incredible sexual wellbeing!
About Dr Goh Lit Ching
Dr Goh Lit Ching completed her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at the University of London in the United Kingdom. Her clinical interests include Family Medicine, Women’s Health and Preventative Care via Health Screening. Dr Goh is a firm believer of primary prevention and early detection improving disease outcome.
Established in 2005, DTAP (Dr. Tan & Partners) clinics, a pioneer of the GP plus, or “General Practice with Special Interest” model in Singapore, provides holistic and comprehensive medical care for everyone. We provide basic GP services with a key focus in HIV & STD testing and management, Men’s Health (Andrology), Women’s Health, Aesthetics, and Chronic Disease Management services. DTAP clinics are located in Singapore and Malaysia, and DTAP Express is the first clinic in Singapore with express self-testing kits for STD. “DTAP to Home” is an extension of DTAP Teleconsult and DTAP Delivery for medications, supplements and health aid services.