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Sexual Conditions Health Center

Sexual Problems in Women - What Happens

Many things in a woman's life can lead to a sexual problem. Over time, an untreated sexual problem can have a growing impact on your quality of life. If the problem makes you feel uncomfortable and/or unsatisfied, sex can become a tense and unwelcome experience.

Physical influences

Women normally experience a physical change during sexual arousal, as blood swells areas of the vulva. If those areas aren't stimulated enough, a woman may not feel as much sexual pleasure.

Chronic (ongoing) illnesses, such as diabetes and arthritis, can affect sexual desire, enjoyment, and performance. Medicines for many medical conditions also affect desire and arousal.

Pain during sex

Any history of pain during sex may cause a woman to avoid sex or find it unpleasant.

Pain during sex may result from:

  • Vaginal dryness. Lack of lubrication in the vagina is the most common cause of pain with sex.
  • Vaginismus (say "vadj-uh-NIZ-mus"). This is an involuntary contraction of the vagina. It's often related to a lack of experience with sex.1 Sometimes it stems from a trauma such as rape or sexual abuse. But there can also be a medical cause, such as:
    • Scars in the vaginal opening from injury, surgery, or childbirth.
    • Pelvic infections, such as vaginitis or Bartholin glands infections.
    • Chronic pain conditions, such as vulvodynia.
    • Skin conditions, such as lichen sclerosus or lichen planus.
    • Irritation from douches, spermicides, or latex condoms.
  • Dyspareunia (say "dis-puh-ROO-nee-uh"). This is physical pain that occurs during entry into the vagina, during deep thrusting, or after sexual intercourse.

Partner and emotional influences

Living situations that give couples very little privacy can interfere with feelings of arousal.

Your partner's level of sexual skill and attention can play a big part in your sexual enjoyment. A positive, respectful connection between partners sets the stage for sexual interest and arousal.

Positive sexual experiences help build a healthy sexuality. On the other hand, a woman who has had a forced sexual experience is likely to have mixed feelings about sex. In one study, 1 out of 5 women reported having been forced to do something sexual. This was most often done by someone they were close to.2

Some women feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, or self-conscious during sex.

A woman may avoid sex because she's afraid that an illness (such as cancer) or surgery (such as mastectomy or hysterectomy) will make sexual activity unpleasant for one or both partners.

Or she may be afraid of spreading a sexually transmitted infection, such as genital herpes.

Age-related influences

As a woman ages, she may have sex less often because she no longer has a partner or her partner has lost interest in or is no longer able to have sex. Many older women also report problems with lubrication.

Women may notice less desire for sex after menopause.

It may take longer to feel sexually aroused, and orgasms may be briefer. But orgasms still will offer mental and physical pleasure to most women.

Women can feel sexual pleasure throughout their lives. But those who stop having sex after menopause have more shrinking and drying of the vagina than women who continue to have sex.2


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 30, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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