Female sexual problems

Many women have problems with sex at some stage in their life. Here's a look at some forms of female sexual dysfunction (FSD) and advice on where to get help if FSD affects you.

According to the Sexual Advice Association, sexual problems affect around 50% of women and become more common as women get older.

Dysfunction can include loss of desire, loss of arousal, problems with orgasm, and pain during sex.

To identify the reasons behind sexual dysfunction, both physical and psychological factors have to be considered, including a woman's relationship with her partner.

Loss of desire

Loss of desire, or lack of sex drive, affects some women at certain times of life, such as during pregnancy or times of stress. But some women experience it all the time.

A lack of sex drive can have a range of physical or psychological causes, including diabetes, depression, relationship problems, hormone disorders, excessive alcohol and drug use, tiredness, and previous traumatic sexual experience.

Sex drive can also fall if a woman's natural testosterone levels drop. Testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, so levels can drop if these are removed or if they're not functioning properly.

Psychosexual therapy can help a woman overcome orgasm problems. It involves exploring her feelings about sex, herself and her relationship

Orgasm problems

These can be divided into two types: primary (when a woman has never had an orgasm) and secondary (when a woman has had an orgasm in the past but can't now).

Some women don't need to have an orgasm to enjoy sex, but an inability to reach orgasm can be a problem for some women and their partners.

Reasons why a woman can't have an orgasm can include fear or lack of knowledge about sex, being unable to "let go", not enough effective stimulation, relationship problems, mood disorders (such as depression), and previous traumatic sexual experience.

Research is being done into certain medical conditions that affect the blood and nerve supply to the clitoris to see whether this affects orgasm. Find out more in What is an orgasm?.

Psychosexual therapy can help a woman overcome orgasm problems. It involves exploring her feelings about sex, her relationship and herself.

Pain

Pain during sex (also called dyspareunia) is common after the menopause as oestrogen levels fall and the vagina feels dry. This can affect a woman's desire for sex, but there are creams that can help. Ask your GP or pharmacist.

Vaginismus is when muscles in or around the vagina go into spasm, making sexual intercourse painful or impossible. It can be very upsetting and distressing.

Vaginismus can occur if the woman associates sex with pain or being "wrong", if she's had vaginal trauma (such as childbirth or an episiotomy), relationship problems, fear of pregnancy, or painful conditions of the vagina and the surrounding area.

It can often be successfully treated by focusing on sex education, counselling and the use of vaginal trainers. Vaginal trainers are cylindrical shapes that are inserted into the vagina. A woman will gradually use larger sizes until the largest size can be inserted comfortably.

Getting help

To establish the cause of sexual dysfunction, a doctor or therapist will need to ask you questions about your medical, sexual and social history. Your GP can carry out tests for underlying medical conditions.

If your problem is related to lack of hormones such as testosterone or oestrogen, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help.

Treating other conditions such as diabetes or depression might also alleviate symptoms of sexual dysfunction.

In many cases, sexual therapy can help. Talk with your partner about your problem and see a therapist together if you can. Don't be embarrassed. Many people experience sexual dysfunction and there are ways to get help.

Your GP can refer you to a therapist, or you can see one privately. Look for a therapist who is a member of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists. This means they'll be fully qualified and will make sure you get a proper check-up of physical and psychological factors.

The Sexual Advice Association offers sexual health factsheets on topics ranging from loss of sex drive to talking to your GP about sexual problems, and ageing and sex.

More information
For more on sexual health, dysfunction and the menopause, read Sexual Health and the Menopause (RSM Press), edited by John Tomlinson, Margaret Rees and Tony Mander.

Female sexual dysfunction

A psychosexual therapist explains the different types of female sexual dysfunction and the medical and psychological issues that may be involved.

Media last reviewed: 18/04/2013

Next review due: 18/04/2015

Page last reviewed: 03/06/2014

Next review due: 02/06/2016

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Comments

The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

girl14 said on 15 August 2014

this is to XmouseX

i read your comment and can see the same problems as i was having around 3 years ago, i turned 21 and started having problems down below which started of like thrush or BV symptoms, 6 months later after no help from any of my doctors i was watching TV and a girl was having the exact same thing as me, i was diagnosed by a gynaecologist with vulvadinya. a condition that caused horrendous pain during intercourse and ended my relationship.. caused by depression, it finally went 4 months later and i got with my current partner and it has been ok since, you will be okay you just need to relax and take time i didnt have sexual intercourse for 3 months its hard but worth it.
there are people that can help you - sexual health clinics and gynaecologists.

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XMouseX said on 30 June 2014

i recently went to a gp about sexual performance anxiety as its ruining my relationship, i have no desire at all i panic even at the thought its just a horrendous feeling and totally uncomfortable and its really getting me down.. i just want to be normal, going to a gp was a big step for me as i have a huge issue with talking to people especially about something so personal and i felt completely ignored... no advice or help was offered, i was told its all in my head and there was nothing on the nhs that could help me, i was just wished 'good luck', i felt like i had completely humiliated myself for nothing... i dont really know where to turn now...help...please... :(

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Sba 77 said on 10 April 2012

What do you do if you're really sexually frustrated and want the real thing? I'm 19 , theres no answer is there? cause men can just go to a prostitute but what are girls supposed to do :(

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Steve Brad said on 26 March 2012

Good sex makes people feel good about themselves in addition to increasing physical relaxation, reduction of pain, relief of depression and fostering a sense of enjoyment.

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chippychips said on 22 July 2011

curious K, it would be good to hear an update on your situation! My daughter is 9months now and Im pretty much in the same situaiton as you described above!! I had hoped that once my periods returned (as im breastfeeding) that the feelings would all come flooding back but they havnt.
We went through a really difficult time with my daughters sleep and i was so knackered all the time i thought that could be it but shes sleeping better now and i still feel the same.
Im not sure if i should just 'wait and see' or if more proactive approach is necessary! Anyone else got suggestions?
x

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User456270 said on 12 May 2010

i think i would lose my b/f cause of this i'm only 25 and have been with him for 7 years

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curious k said on 20 February 2010

i am 21 and had my little boy 3 months ago, since been pregnant ive not been interested in having sex, its not very nice for my partner and were not exactly getting on brilliantly at the moment. no matter how much i try i just cant get my head around it, the thought of having sex makes me feel sick, its got to the point were im pushing my partner away i hardly let him kiss or cuddle me. ive not excacly had any bad experiences and our sex life use to be steaming. please help me, i just want the closeness back. x

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unsure said on 04 June 2009

i only find i have sexual desire when i first meet someone, its the lust i think, but give it couple of weeks, i have hardly no desire to have sex. its happened with all my long term boyfriends and i'm due to marry the current one! i feel that i have to get this sorted for his sake, its not fair on him.

my friends all think i'm bonkers, they have no problems, and being only 26 i feel i should be fine too.

i asked the doctor about it once, he said as i'm on the pill my hormones should be fine, asked very quickly if i was stressed and then changed the subject. i feel i cant approach him again, i have no idea where to go next, but at least i know now i'm not alone!

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restless said on 04 June 2009

I've had a million different things wrong with my bits, I've seen my GP many times and have even been to a specialist. I always feel that because Im young ( 24) the doctors pay no attention to me when I tell them I have no sexual desire. Its nice to know there is maybe I have a problem I can put a name too.

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Emziie said on 17 December 2008

during sex i find it difficult to have an orgasm, but if its oral its like a walk in the park, no problems. its not something thats ever really bothered me as i still enjoy sex. but it seems to be bothering my boyfriend. he feels like its his "mission" to make me come, he feels useless so to speak. ive told him a millions time that it doesnt bother me and i still really enjoy sex and that its not just him. ive always found it difficult through intercourse since i lost my virginity.
how can i get him to stop worrying about it?

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ruby said on 23 August 2008

very good informative advice for women of any sexual orientation

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