Which kinds of sexual problems can women have?
Around half of all women will experience problems with sexual function. The main problems women experience are: problems with orgasm, low libido or loss of desire, and painful sex.
Orgasm problems are relative to the woman’s personal experiences and enjoyment. For many women, an orgasm is not the end goal to sex, and they will enjoy fulfilling sex lives without having one every time they have sex. Other women base their sexual enjoyment around orgasm, and will therefore consider the inability to have one to be a problem.
There is no physical reason why a woman should not be able to reach orgasm if she is in good physical and emotional health, is aware of her own body and desires, and is properly stimulated during sex (either by her partner or by herself).
Women who experience ‘orgasm problems’ are divided into primary and secondary types: primary ( when a woman has never had an orgasm), and secondary (when a woman has had orgasms in the past, but is no longer able to have one).
Low libido, is a loss of desire or a lack of sex drive. This can be temporary (due to stress or pregnancy), but it can also affect women for longer periods of time. A lack of desire can have a number of causes:
- physical (hormone disorders, menopause, diabetes, certain types of medication, fatigue, alcohol or drug use)
- psychological (depression, stress, relationship problems, or previous traumatic sexual experience)
Painful sex, also known as ‘dyspareunia’, is pain during or after sex (usually after penetrative sex). Penetrative sex can be physically painful if there is a pre-existing injury to the vagina, a medical condition (like thrush), or due to lack of lubrication or arousal.
Painful sex is especially common after menopause, as the vagina walls become drier with falling oestrogen levels in the body. Women may also experience painful sex as a result of ‘vaginismus’, which is when the muscles of the vagina tighten and go into spasm, making penetrative intercourse difficult.
Vaginismus often happens if there is a negative psychological association of sex with ‘bad’ things, or pain. This is common in women who:
- have not had sex before
- do not know much about sex or are nervous
- have had a traumatic sexual experience
- are having relationship problems
- have another form of vulval or vaginal pain (which can often go undiagnosed)
- have a condition known as ‘endometriosis’
- have had painful sex in the past
If you experience pain during sex, do not try to continue, as this can compound the psychological association of sex with pain, and worsen the problem. Painful sex can be very distressing for women, especially if it is not properly understood and there is a lack of awareness for treatment.