Types of Sexual Dysfunction

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

There are several types of sexual disorders that affect females and males. Examples of male sexual dysfunction include erectile dysfunction, orgasm/ejaculation disorders, and priapism or painful erections. Sexual problems that affect females include loss of interest in sex, difficulty reaching orgasm, negative thoughts during sex, and vaginal dryness and tightness causing pain during sex.

Some of the main categories of sexual dysfunction include:

  • Sexual desire disorders
  • Arousal disorders
  • Orgasm disorders
  • Sexual pain disorders

Sexual desire disorders

These are problems that involve a lack or absence of sexual drive, also referred to as a low libido. The lack of desire may apply in general or towards the current partner. The disorder may have always been present or may develop after a period of sexual function being normal. Low levels of the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone testosterone can lead to a decrease in sexual desire. Some precipitating factors include increasing age, pregnancy, depression, anxiety, and the use of certain medications such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.

Sexual arousal disorders

Previously, terms used to describe a sexual arousal disorder have included “frigidity” in the case of women and “impotence” in the case of men but these terms are generally not currently used. Impotence is now described as erectile dysfunction and a number of terms exist to describe frigidity. These individuals may have an aversion to or tendency to avoid sexual contact with a partner. Males may find they can only maintain a partial erection or they may be unable to obtain one at all. Affected males may also find they gain no pleasure or excitement from sexual activity. Among affected females, the vagina may fail to become lubricated.

Orgasm disorders

Individuals affected by an orgasm disorder fail to achieve climax or find that climax is often delayed. These disorders may be caused by physical factors, illness or even as a result of using certain medications.

Sexual pain disorders

Sexual pain disorders are mainly confined to women and are caused by inadequate lubrication of the vagina during sex. This may be caused by a lack of stimulation or excitement about the sexual activity or by hormonal changes that occur as a result of pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause. Other causes include irritation due to the use of contraceptive creams and anxiety about engaging in sex.

Sexual pain may also be caused by a condition called vaginismus, where the muscles of the vaginal wall spasm involuntarily during intercourse. The cause of these spasms is not clear but previous sexual trauma such as abuse or assault has been suggested as a trigger of the condition.

One sexual pain disorder that occurs in males is referred to as priapism, which is a painful erection that may persist for several hours, even in the absence of sexual stimulation. This is caused by blood getting trapped in the penis and failing to drain adequately. If left untreated, the condition may lead to a permanent loss of erectile function. 

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2014

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