Sexual Problems in Women

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on September 20, 2021

Sexual dysfunction is a common problem among women. Almost half of all women have persistent problems with sex, such as little or no sex drive, trouble reaching an orgasm, or pain during intercourse.

Satisfying sex involves your body, mind, health, beliefs, and your feelings toward your partner, among other factors. Here are some possible causes behind problems in your sex life.

Medical or Physical Conditions

Heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, nerve conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and even simple fatigue can make sex uncomfortable or painful. They can make it hard for you to get aroused or climax during sex.

Scarring from surgery or radiation treatment in your vaginal opening or in other parts of your genital area also can change your sexual experience. So can infections such as genital herpes.

Other possible causes include hormonal imbalance or physical changes related to:

  • Pregnancy (you may have sex less often or find it uncomfortable, especially during the third trimester)
  • Childbirth (your genitals may be less sensitive, you may have had a difficult delivery)
  • Breastfeeding (low estrogen levels may lead to vaginal dryness, you may lack energy for sex)
  • Menopause (vaginal dryness, lack of libido)

Mental and Emotional Issues

The right mood and a healthy, respectful connection with your partner play an important role in sexual intimacy. But there may be factors that leave you feeling self-conscious, fearful, or uninterested. Reasons may include:

Medications, Drugs, and Alcohol

Drinking can make orgasm longer to achieve or feel less intense. Tobacco smoking and long-term use of heroin and other illegal drugs also can lead to sexual problems.

Some medications can make sex less pleasurable, dampen sex drive, or cause vaginal discomfort. Types of medications include:

Treatments and Other Help

See your doctor right away if you suddenly have pain or unusual syptoms during sex, like a headache, or if you think you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. 

For other kinds of sexual dysfunction, a range of therapies can help. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, check your health, order blood screens or other tests, and rule out other possible causes.

Medical treatments may include:

  • Drugs to raise low libido (desire for sex)
  • Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles to help achieve better orgasm
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to take before intercourse to lower pain

Other advice to improve your intimate experience may include:

  • More open communication between you and your partner,
  • Making time for sex
  • Improving intimacy with your partner
  • Healthy habits, such as minimizing alcohol, getting exercise and eating a healthy diet
  • Therapy or counseling to help you manage stress or anxiety, or work through feelings of fear or shame in regards to sex
  • Vaginal lubricant for dryness or lessen pain during sex
  • Vibrators and other tools to enhance arousal
  • Techniques on how to reduce distractions and be more present during sex

Show Sources


American Family Physician Journal: “Female Sexual Dysfunction: Evaluation and Treatment.”

Merck Manual (Consumer Version): “Overview of Sexual Dysfunction in Women.”

UpToDate: “Overview of sexual dysfunction in women: Epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Sexual Dysfunction.”

Mayo Clinic: “Female sexual dysfunction.”

Alcohol Health and Research World: “Alcohol and Female Sexuality.”

Australian Prescriber: “Drug-induced sexual dysfunction in men and women.”

American Cancer Society: "Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer."

Lebovic, D., Gordon, J., Taylor, R. Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Scrubb Hill Press, 2005.

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