Learn about the types and causes of sexual dysfunction.

What is Sexual Dysfunction?

Sexual dysfunction broadly means any difficulty experienced by a couple or individual (male or female) during any stage of a sexual encounter. This may include any activities before, during, or after intercourse. Sexual dysfunction can have a significant impact on an individual’s perception of sex and participation in sexual acts.

Types and causes of sexual dysfunction

There are many different types of sexual dysfunction that may be classified in four categories: desire disorders, arousal disorders, orgasm disorders, and pain disorders. A number of factors can cause sexual dysfunction. Emotional causes include problems such as depression or anxiety, fears or guilt, or sexual trauma. Physical factors can include use of drugs or medicines, alcohol, pregnancy, aging effects, physical damage including nerve damage, diseases, and hormone deficiencies.

Desire disorders

Decreased libido, or sex drive, is the lack or total absence of sexual desire for a period of time. Desire disorders can range from a general lack of desire to a lack of desire for the current partner. People may experience this after a period of normal sexual functioning or may have always experienced a low or absent sexual desire. Some causes can contribute to desire disorders, but generally include a decrease in hormone production (estrogen for women, or testosterone in men and women). Other factors may be aging, fatigue, pregnancy, medications, or conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Arousal disorders

While arousal disorders have historically been referred to as frigidity in women and impotence in men, these terms have been replaced by more objective terms in current medical practice. Arousal disorders in women are described by the symptoms that occur with them, such as lack of arousal, pain during intercourse, or lack of orgasm. Erectile dysfunction is the currently used term to describe arousal disorders in men. For both sexes, lack of arousal can present itself as an aversion to or avoidance of sexual contact with others. For men, in particular, this can mean the failure to attain or maintain an erection, or the lack of sexual excitement or pleasure. Causes for arousal disorders can be physiological, such as decreased blood flow or lack of natural lubrication. Chronic disease such as diabetes can also be a factor causing lack of arousal. Interpersonal factors such as the state of the relationship between partners can also contribute to this type of sexual dysfunction.

Orgasm disorders

Orgasm disorders are those presenting delays or total absence of orgasm following a normal sexual encounter. To be classified as a disorder, this must occur in at least 75% of such encounters. There are several possible causes of these disorders, including physical, mental, or medicinal. A common cause for women occurs with menopause; one in three post-menopausal women report problems reaching orgasm after sex. Additionally, individuals taking antidepressants may be more likely to experience orgasm disorders.

Pain disorders

Sexual pain disorders affect women far more often than men. Women may experience painful intercourse (dyspareunia) or spasms of the vaginal walls (vaginismus). Painful intercourse may be caused by lack of sufficient lubrication resulting from lack of excitement; hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause; irritation from contraceptive products; or anxiety about sex. Past sexual trauma may also cause lasting effects contributing to painful sex.


There are many established and experimental treatments designed to aid with sexual dysfunction, ranging from medications to physical apparatuses to lifestyle changes. Individuals suffering from a sexual disorder are encouraged to seek help. Contact your neighborhood Texas Health Care Obstetrics & Gynecology clinic in DFW for more information on sexual dysfunction and treatment options.