Female sexual dysfunction has many possible symptoms and causes, so treatment varies. Communicating your concerns and understanding your body and its normal response to sexual activity are important steps toward gaining sexual satisfaction.
Women with sexual concerns most often benefit from a combined treatment approach that addresses medical as well as relationship and emotional issues.
Nonmedical treatment for female sexual dysfunction
To treat sexual dysfunction, your doctor might recommend that you start with nonmedical strategies:
- Talk and listen. Open, honest communication with your partner makes a world of difference in your sexual satisfaction. Even if you're not used to talking about your likes and dislikes, learning to do so and providing feedback in a nonthreatening way sets the stage for greater intimacy.
- Practice healthy lifestyle habits. Go easy on alcohol — drinking too much can blunt your sexual responsiveness. Stop smoking — smoking restricts blood flow to your sexual organs, decreasing sexual arousal. Be physically active — regular physical activity can increase your stamina and elevate your mood, enhancing romantic feelings. Learn ways to decrease stress so you can focus on and enjoy your sexual experience.
- Seek counseling. Talk with a counselor or therapist who specializes in sexual and relationship problems. Therapy often includes education about how to optimize your body's sexual response, ways to enhance intimacy with your partner, and recommendations for reading materials or couples exercises.
- Use a lubricant. A vaginal lubricant may be helpful during intercourse if you experience vaginal dryness or pain during sex.
- Try a device. Arousal improves with stimulation of the clitoris. Use a vibrator to provide clitoral stimulation. Although some women find clitoral vacuum suction devices helpful for enhancing sexual arousal, those devices can be cumbersome.
Medical treatment for female sexual dysfunction
Effective treatment for sexual dysfunction often requires addressing an underlying medical condition or hormonal change.
To treat sexual dysfunction tied to an underlying medical condition, your doctor might recommend that you:
- Adjust or change medication that has sexual side effects
- Treat a thyroid problem or other hormonal condition
- Optimize treatment for depression or anxiety
- Try strategies for relieving pelvic pain or other pain problems
Treating female sexual dysfunction linked to a hormonal cause might include:
- Estrogen therapy. Localized estrogen therapy comes in the form of a vaginal ring, cream or tablet. This therapy benefits sexual function by improving vaginal tone and elasticity, increasing vaginal blood flow and enhancing lubrication.
- Androgen therapy. Androgens include male hormones, such as testosterone. Testosterone plays a role in healthy sexual function in women as well as men, although women have much lower amounts of testosterone. Androgen therapy for sexual dysfunction is controversial, however. Some studies show a benefit for women who have low testosterone levels and develop sexual dysfunction; other studies show little or no benefit.
The risks of hormone therapy may vary, depending on whether estrogen is given alone or with a progestin, your age, the dose and type of hormone, and health issues such as your risks of heart and blood vessel disease and cancer. Talk with your doctor about benefits and risks. In some cases, hormonal therapy might require close monitoring by your doctor.
Potential treatments that need more research
More research is needed before these agents might be recommended for treatment of female sexual dysfunction:
- Tibolone. Tibolone is a synthetic steroid drug currently used in Europe and Australia for treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. In one randomized trial, postmenopausal women taking the drug experienced an improvement in overall sexual function and a reduction in personal distress compared with postmenopausal women taking estrogen, but the effect was small. Due to concerns over increased risk of breast cancer and stroke in women taking tibolone, the drug isn't approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the U.S.
- Phosphodiesterase inhibitors. This group of medications has proved successful in treating erectile dysfunction in men, but the drugs don't work nearly as well in treating female sexual dysfunction. Studies looking into the effectiveness of these drugs in women show inconsistent results. One drug, sildenafil (Viagra), may prove beneficial for some women who experience sexual dysfunction as a result of taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of drugs used to treat depression. However, don't take sildenafil if you use nitroglycerin for angina — a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.
Issues surrounding female sexual dysfunction are usually complex, so even the best medications aren't likely to work if other emotional or social factors remain unresolved.
Sept. 25, 2012
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