What defines perfect sex? Well, we can say you won’t necessarily find it in an erotic fiction novel or a Hollywood sex scene because there is no right or wrong way to enjoy sex. Your sex life and how you find pleasure are unique to you, and that might not fit into the facade society paints for us. And hey, that’s OK! But what if you consistently can’t reach orgasm or you experience pain during intercourse or you know something just isn’t right when you’re trying to get in the mood? Don’t ignore what your mind and body are telling you when it comes to sex; something bigger may actually be going on.
From a biological framework, the stages of sex can be broadly thought of as the arousal phase, plateau phase, orgasm phase and resolution phase. The inability of a woman to fully experience some or all of the various physical stages the body normally experiences during sex in a healthy and pleasurable way can be defined as sexual dysfunction. Female sexual dysfunction is quite common, affecting about one in every five women. It can take many forms and can have numerous causes.
Doctor of physical therapy Uchenna Ossai and nurse practitioner Kita Laird of the UT Health Austin Women’s Health Institute explain that defining the causes of sexual dysfunction aren’t as clear-cut as we may think they are. “Many patients assume their inability to engage in or enjoy sex is exclusively related to their hormones. Yes, that may be a cause, but usually it’s not just one thing,” Ossai says. “There may be other factors involved, including anatomical issues such as pelvic-floor dysfunction, as well as psychological, sociocultural, and interpersonal.”
As unique as your sex life is to you, your treatment plan for sexual dysfunction should also be just as individualized. Laird and Ossai explain looking at a patient as a whole person allows them to develop a care plan that meets each patient’s specific needs. “For some women, it’s about managing the underlying conditions, such as pelvic pain or prolapse, and for others, it’s managing the daily mental and emotional stresses of life and understanding their own sexual needs and pleasures,” Ossai explains.
So, if you’re reading this and thinking, “Dang, this is me. I’m having similar issues and don’t know what to do,” well, first things first: Don’t beat yourself up about it! “Many women come into the office feeling very defeated about their inability to please their partners and enjoy sex, and our job is to normalize it for them,” Ossai says. “We tell our patients that this problem is common because it is. It happens to people of all genders, and we can help you fix it.” Second, go see your doctor. Whether it’s your primary-care doctor or your women’s health specialist, your health-care providers can help you understand the causes of your sexual dysfunction and the best ways to address them.