Sexual function is often an important part of a relationship. This kind of physical intimacy brings couples closer together with passion and desire and allows for a particular bond that non-sexual partners can't attain. When sexual dysfunction occurs within a relationship, it can dampen the passion and intimacy and ultimately put a strain on the relationship. For the most part sexual dysfunctions are not impossible to overcome, and even dysfunctions which are seemingly debilitating, does not mean that sexual intimacy needs to stop.
A lot of people feel that all sexual activity involves penetrative sex and this is not the case. As such, we are not limiting the definition of sexual activity to penetrative sexual activity but including within that definition the ideas of sexual intimacy as the stimulation of the genitals, being naked together etc. This article will explore sexual dysfunction, types of sexual dysfunctions and how to overcome them to keep the passion alive in a relationship.
What Is A Sexual Dysfunction?
Sexual activity occurs as a part of the body's sexual response cycle and this is driven by desire, arousal and passion. This cycle involves three phases; excitement, plateau, orgasm. The body will undergo changes through each stage of the sexual response cycle indicating arousal and the first stage can include such physiological responses such as the hardening of nipples, increased blood flow to the genitals, increased heart rate and breathing, self-lubrication etc. The second phase will see the responses to stage one increase and this will lead to stage three which is sexual climax which entails muscle contractions, ejaculation, sex flush etc.
Sexual dysfunction is an issue which affects any of the above stages during sexual activity. Despite having a fairly common prevalence in society (40% of women and 32% of men) - sexual dysfunction is rarely spoken about, and as such it is subjected to grandiose claims by malicious companies offering all sorts of potions and cures which promises all sorts of sexual satisfactions without a guarantee in delivering those. This leaves many people struggling to reignite the passion in their relationships. So how do we move towards bringing back passion and intimacy and ultimately sexual satisfaction?
Types Of Sexual Dysfunction:-
We can begin to answer that question by exploring the different types of sexual dysfunction and how it affects both men and women. Sexual dysfunction is traditionally separated into four categories.
1. Desire Disorder:-
Defined as a lack of interest or a distinct lack of sexual desire, often referred to as a low libido. There are often significant issues surrounding the idea of a desire disorder and it is often overly medicated. The stigma is that male libido is thought of as being much higher than women and it is often thought to be 'cured' with potions and pills such as Viagra. The recent push for a female Viagra is also problematic as it will complicate the idea of a desire disorder. People will naturally have highs and lows in terms of their passion and desire levels and this can correlate with age, mental health, physical health, diet, stress and a whole range of issues. Often low libido is medicated without exploring potentially underlying factors within an individual or a couple. Generally, a medical diagnosis will indicate lower than 'normal' levels of estrogen in women, and testosterone in men. Not to be confused with Asexuality.
2. Arousal Disorders:-
Defined as a body's lack of response or an inability to become excited or aroused during sexual activity. This is not to be confused with the inability to obtain an erection for men, although this condition used to be classified as an arousal disorder, impotence is now considered to be an erectile dysfunction and not an arousal disorder. Men suffering from arousal disorder may still be able to gain and maintain an erection (or partial, or none) but the primary factor to an arousal disorder in a male is that they will often receive little to no pleasure in a sexual activity. For females, an arousal disorder can often not become sufficiently lubricated, or no natural lubrication will be released at all.
Defined as a significant delay to orgasm, or an inability to orgasm at all. A delayed orgasm, especially in a male, may not necessarily be attributed to an orgasm disorder, but it is generally diagnosed when an orgasm is not obtained, or that it is obtained far beyond normal time expectations. The issue with this is the idea of what is normal. For females, it is generally likened to an orgasmia, or having an ability to gain an orgasm only when certain conditions are met. A variety of factors can create orgasm disorders and these could be illnesses, medications, repeated drug use, or physical factors.
4. Pain Disorders:-
Defined as experiencing pain during sexual activity. This category is primarily restricted to women, though men can experience pain during sex if they suffer from a form of priapism, or engage in risky sexual activity which tears the membranes of the penis. In women, the majority of pain related disorders are as a result of insufficient lubrication. The result is that excess friction can tear and disrupt the delicate walls of the vagina and bring forth pain. Anxiety as a result of trauma, bad sexual experience or some other event causing anxiety. Pain may also be caused by the condition vaginismus – which is a disorder in which the muscles of the vagina will sporadically spasm involuntarily during sexual activity.
We are familiar with the idea that sexual functioning and the passion within a relationship changes over time and that's not to say sex and passion no longer exist, just that it has manifested into something that differs from the beginning of a relationship. These disorders may exist from the beginning of sexual experimentation, or they may develop after a significant event, or they may develop naturally over the course of time. The reasons for these changes have been well documented and can include relationship quality, a person’s age, time together, mental well-being, health and a variety of other factors as well.
Unfortunately, when it comes to thinking about and discussing sexual dysfunction, the majority of people will generally throw it in one of two categories – erectile dysfunction for men, and low libido for women, effectively rendering other forms of dysfunction silent. This is problematic, it places undue pressure on men and women in terms of their sexual function – it is more problematic in women as there appears to be a distinct lack of 'treatment' options.
Since the causes for female dysfunction are poorly understood the treatments suggesting a cure aren't necessarily effective in their one size fits all approach. Indeed a recent study by Ph.D candidate Annika Gunst, which was published in Psychological Medicine Journal, examined the relationship between relationship status and female sexual desire. The report concluded through studying over 2,000 Finnish women that passion and sex drive was influenced by the length of a relationship. Whilst this study has indicated one potential issue, when it comes to sexual function it is largely misunderstood and a highly stigmatized hot topic. In our next article we will look at ways of overcoming sexual dysfunction and bringing back the passion into the bedroom.