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Sexual Dysfunction in Women

Physical Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction

There are any number of physical reasons why women might suffer from sexual dysfunction, ranging from the effects of certain drugs to age-related changes. In this section, we'll cover the physical causes of female sexual dysfunction.


Hormones are usually at the top of the list when it comes to tracking any changes, good or bad, in the human body. In women, estrogen and progesterone, which are produced in the ovaries, play enormously important and diverse roles, depending largely on age. Until a woman is in her forties, these hormones, as well as testosterone and other androgens, are operating more or less at full blast.

Testosterone fuels the sex drive, (yes, in women, too!) and estrogen keeps the vaginal environment moist. (However, vaginal dryness is still possible around the time of the woman's period or if she's taking certain oral contraceptives. In those cases, a water-based lubricant, such as K-Y Jelly, can help.)

Alternatively, an oral contraceptive with a high ratio of estrogen to progestin (a component of progesterone) may be the answer. Women who use triphasic pills, which contain variable combinations of estrogen and progestin, report more interest in sex and greater arousal. This may be because triphasics better mimic natural hormonal fluctuations.

Erratic estrogen output can wreak havoc on a woman's sex life. Ovulation becomes a very chancy occurrence, and many couples have been surprised by pregnancy. This uncertainty makes some women nervous about sex even if contraception is used.

As menopause gets closer, hormone levels begin to drop. Eventually the ovaries stop making estrogen and progesterone, and the vaginal wall becomes drier and less elastic, making intercourse painful. Hormone replacement therapy, either systemic (affecting the entire body) or topical (a cream applied to the vagina) can ease intercourse.

Impaired Blood Vessels

The study by Dr. Goldstein mentioned on the previous page suggests sexual dysfunction in women may be traced to vascular disease, specifically, decreased blood flow in vessels leading to sex organs. This would be similar to a leading cause of erectile dysfunction in men. Dr. Goldstein describes sexual dysfunction as, essentially, a "heart attack" of the vagina, clitoris, or penis. However, this field of study is very new, and not everyone agrees with Dr. Goldstein's theory.


Being tired is a real sex-buster. Sex therapist Domeena Renshaw recommends an unusual plan to tired women: Pick a night and set your alarm to ring 90 minutes after you go to bed. That's when your first sexual sleep cycle begins, she says, so you should be at peak arousal. Get up, shower together, and make love.

The shower refreshes you and the lovemaking relaxes you for getting back to sleep, plus you're getting some much-needed sexual time with your partner. Should your partner have ED problems, you can time this activity with the use of a drug like Viagra.

Age-Related Changes

Hormonal changes, arthritis, heart disease, and other physical conditions may mean you'll have to adapt your activities accordingly, but there's no need to fall in with the myth that getting older means giving up sex. Freedom from pregnancy, comfort with one's body, and familiarity with your partner's responses can enhance sex in later years. In fact, data from the National Survey of Families and Households revealed that one quarter of married people over the age of 76 reported having sex at least once in the previous month.

Physical factors aren't the only causes of sexual dysfunction in women -- there also are medical issues. These are addressed on the next page.