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Female Sexual Dysfunction

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How Is Female Sexual Dysfunction Diagnosed?

To diagnose female sexual dysfunction, the doctor likely will begin with a physical exam and a thorough evaluation of symptoms. The doctor may perform a pelvic exam to evaluate the health of the reproductive organs and a Pap smear to detect changes in the cells of the cervix (to check for cancer or a pre-cancerous condition). He or she may order other tests to rule out any medical problems that may be contributing to the woman's sexual dysfunction.

An evaluation of your attitudes regarding sex, as well as other possible contributing factors (such as fear, anxiety, past sexual trauma/abuse, relationship problems, or alcohol or drug abuse) will help the doctor understand the underlying cause of the problem and make appropriate treatment recommendations.

How Is Female Sexual Dysfunction Treated?

The ideal approach to treating female sexual dysfunction involves a team effort between the woman, doctors, and trained therapists. Most types of sexual problems can be corrected by treating the underlying physical or psychological problems. Other treatment strategies focus on the following:

  • Providing education. Education about human anatomy, sexual function, and the normal changes associated with aging, as well as sexual behaviors and appropriate responses, may help a woman overcome her anxieties about sexual function and performance.
  • Enhancing stimulation. This may include the use of erotic materials (videos or books), masturbation, and changes in sexual routines.
  • Providing distraction techniques. Erotic or non-erotic fantasies; exercises with intercourse; music, videos, or television can be used to increase relaxation and eliminate anxiety.
  • Encouraging non-coital behaviors. Non-coital behaviors (physically stimulating activity that does not include intercourse), such as sensual massage, can be used to promote comfort and increase communication between partners.
  • Minimizing pain. Using sexual positions that allow the woman to control the depth of penetration may help relieve some pain. Vaginal lubricants can help reduce pain caused by friction, and a warm bath before intercourse can help increase relaxation.

Can Female Sexual Dysfunction Be Cured?

The success of treatment for female sexual dysfunction depends on the underlying cause of the problem. The outlook is good for dysfunction that is related to a treatable or reversible physical condition. Mild dysfunction that is related to stress, fear, or anxiety often can be successfully treated with counseling, education, and improved communication between partners.

How Do Hormones Affect Female Sexual Dysfunction?

Hormones play an important role in regulating sexual function in women. With the decrease in the female hormone estrogen that is related to aging and menopause, many women experience some changes in sexual function as they age, including poor vaginal lubrication and decreased genital sensation. Research suggests that low levels of the male hormone testosterone also contribute to a decline in sexual arousal, genital sensation, and orgasm. Researchers still are investigating the benefits of hormones and other medications, including drugs like Viagra, to treat sexual problems in women.

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