Sexual Disorders

Dealing with Erectile Dysfunction and Other Common Sexual Disorders

Sexual disorders, also known as sexual dysfunction, are defined by the medical community as obstacles to normal sexual function. They include a wide range of conditions and experiences, including everything from lack of sexual desire or fixation on unusual stimuli to difficulty becoming aroused or achieving orgasm. Sexual addiction is another common type of dysfunction, as is erectile dysfunction (ED). Apart from disorders specific to one sex, such as ED, the aforementioned disorders affect both men and women. Physiologically based sexual disorders are usually associated with advancing age, though they can also strike at any age.

Clinicians normally divide sexual disorders into the following categories:

  • Arousal-based disorders
  • Desire-based disorders
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Ejaculation and orgasm disorders
  • Pain-based disorders

Arousal-Based Disorders

Disorders involving sexual arousal typically manifest as an aversion to sexual activity, or difficulty maintaining interest in sexual contact. In women, physical symptoms normally include a lack of vaginal lubrication, while men may have difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. Though arousal-based sexual disorders are sometimes physiological in nature, they usually have a strong psychological component, or are entirely psychosomatic. One or both partners in an unhealthy or failing relationship may also experience difficulty with sexual arousal.

Desire-Based Disorders

A wide range of sexual disorders fall into this category, including:

  • An abnormally strong or abnormally weak sex drive
  • Fixation on unusual objects of desire (known as "paraphilia"), or the required presence of external, traditionally nonsexual stimuli in order to achieve a sexual response
  • Loss of libido

In some cases, these responses can be attributed to psychological or physiological sources, such as a traumatic emotional experience or the side effects of certain medications. However, many desire-based sexual disorders are rooted in more complex emotional and developmental causes, and as such, they can be difficult to treat even with proper diagnosis and a willingness on the part of the patient to normalize their desire patterns.

Erectile Dysfunction

ED is marked by the partial or complete inability to get or maintain an erection. It is the most commonly diagnosed sexual dysfunction, and it affects approximately 40 percent of men over the age of 40. Statistics show that up to 95 percent of cases respond favorably to treatment, and a number of medications are now available to help men achieve and maintain erections more easily.

Ejaculation and Orgasm Disorders

In this category, two particular disorders are relatively common:

  • Premature ejaculation. This condition affects men, and it can strike in one of two ways. First, ejaculation can occur in a man without orgasm, thus ending sexual contact prematurely. Second, ejaculation with orgasm can occur after only a very brief period of sexual activity. Both types of premature ejaculation are thought to stem from a combination of psychological causes, biological causes, and penile hypersensitivity.
  • Anorgasmia. This condition is experienced by both men and women, and is defined as difficulty or inability to achieve orgasm after an extended period of physical stimulation. This is a common side effect of many psychiatric medications, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), though it can also have psychological or physiological causes.

Pain-Based Disorders

Both men and women, but primarily women, can experience pain as the result of sexual arousal, sexual activity, or orgasm. In women, one of the most common causes of sexual pain is known as vaginismus, which is involuntary and uncontrollable tension in vaginal muscles just before or during initial penetration or sexual activity. While the exact causes of vaginismus are unknown, researchers have uncovered evidence that victims of sexual assault or sexual abuse are more likely to experience it.

Another relatively common pain-based sexual disorder that affects women is known as dyspareunia, or "painful sexual intercourse." A lack of vaginal lubrication is the main cause of dyspareunia, though hormonal or other physiological changes, such as those experienced during menopause, are also believed to play a role.

Though these are sensitive issues, they can be discussed with your doctor in strict confidence. Effective treatments are available, which can help both you and your partner enjoy a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling sexual relationship.