Diagnosed as the medical condition hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), medical practitioners are finding that sexual dysfunction affects women of all ages. Despite the fact that sexual desire diminishes with age, a recent study showed that nearly one-third of women aged 18 to 59 years surveyed suffered from a loss of interest in sex.
Worldwide studies reveal that between 30 and 50 per cent of women report that they have experienced long periods of little or no sex drive. While a third of the women surveyed said they did not have an orgasm during sex or found no pleasure in the act.
Some women have come to terms with their lack of desire for sex, especially if they’re single and lead a busy life. While others would do just about anything to get it back, and so would their partners.
“Up until recently, doctors were not even trained to deal with sexual issues,” sexual dysfunction specialist Dr Stanhope Maxwell told Your Health.
“In fact, Viagra was discovered by accident. It was being researched as a heart drug and it just happened that they found out it was good for erection, so there was really no great design to create a drug to treat sexual problems.”
Women have different levels of sexual desires. Some need it daily, others occasionally, while for some it’s neither here nor there.
However, as several studies have shown, foregoing sexual intercourse altogether is not good for a woman’s overall health. In fact, according to research, women who have an orgasm – whether with a partner or via masturbation – up to three times a week enjoyed a more wholesome health.
Noting that sexuality was a very complex issue, Maxwell said any number of reasons could cause sexual dysfunction.
“If you suppress your sexual urges and sexual reflexes you may have difficulty with them working later on, which leads to sexual dysfunction,” he said.
“I often advise self-stimulation to keep the sexual reflexes working until the appropriate time when you’re going to actually have sexual intercourse.”
He added, “90 odd per cent of men self-stimulate, but it is it felt the reason a lot of women end up with sexual dysfunction is because they feel it’s taboo to masturbate. They grew up with that belief, so they end up suppressing their sexuality. That’s one of the reasons sexual dysfunction is much more common in women than in men.”
He said some women were even brought up to associate sexual desire with being sinful, a bad thing.
“A woman once told me when she used to have sexual desires in her teens she would keep saying ‘go away Satan’,” he shared.
“Most women who have inhibited or low sexual desire it is because of a psychological issue. Sexual desire is tied a lot into the mind, thoughts about sex and things that turn them on.”
Women lose interest in sex for a number of different reasons. They include:
Hormonal imbalance: Menopause, pregnancy, breast-feeding, birth control pills, and thyroid problems can cause hormonal imbalance, which can dampen sexual desire.
Relationships problems: Issues in a relationship, partner having problems performing, birth of a child, problems at home, partner not sensitive to her sexual needs can affect her libido.
“Women tend to be very sensitive to relationship issues more than men, which is why it will affect them sexually while men seemed not to be affected,” said the doctor.
Medical problems: Anxiety, depression or other serious medical conditions such as nerve damage, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, endometriosis, fibroids, thyroid disorders, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure (which can restrict genital blood flow), fatigue due to lack of sleep, vaginismus (pain during sex), orgasmic disorder (70 per cent of women do not have an orgasm during sexual intercourse) can be the cause.
Abuse: Sexual abuse or trauma in the past can lead to fear of having sex.
Socialisation: How a woman was brought up to view sex, whether as sinful or a bad thing, can affect her mindset towards it later in life.
Fear of intimacy or commitment: “This usually affects people who had a traumatic break from someone they were very close to, the loss of which caused a lot of pain, then that person becomes afraid of getting close to anyone. The mind has a tendency to want to protect you from that pain again,” noted Maxwell.
“In this case, a person can function quite well sexually with someone without any emotional attachment, but once they start to get intimately close they just can’t function anymore.”
Lack of knowledge about sex: If a woman was brought up sheltered from any knowledge about sex, she will be unsure of how to deal with it later on.
Societal issues: Job stress, peer pressure, media images of sexuality and the ‘perfect’ woman can affect her sexual performance.
Medications: Medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, oral contraceptives, chemotherapy, etc., can kill a woman’s sexual desires.
Age: Blood levels of androgens fall continuously in women as they age, which will lead to low sex drive.
Extended Abstinence: Not having sexual intercourse or even engaging in masturbation for an extended period can cause desire to diminish over time, because the woman may unconsciously or consciously turn off the desire. Production of testosterone is stimulated by regular sexual act and once she stops, her T level drops.
“The body’s reflexes tend to work off the premise ‘if you don’t use it you will lose it’,” said Maxwell.
Low Testosterone: Testosterone affects sexual drive in both men and women. But levels of testosterone in women decline naturally by an average of 50 per cent between the ages of 20 and 45, and continue to decline – though rather less dramatically – as part of the general ageing process. Testosterone levels peak in women’s mid-20s and then steadily decline until menopause, when they drop dramatically.
Once the cause has been determined, there are a number of ways to restore a woman’s libido and increase her sex drive. These include:
Therapy and Counseling: Sexual dysfunction in the majority of women is usually caused by a psychological problem. Talking to a professional can reveal the cause and help unblock whatever is the problem. It may also require couple’s Counseling, if the problem is with your partner. Or a few sessions with a sex therapist.
Exercise: Having a routine exercise programme can do wonders for improving sexual desire. Exercise releases the feel-good hormones endorphins, increases testosterone levels, builds confidence and makes you feel better about your body. Practising Kegel exercises is also very effective.
Change medication: If the problem is because of the medication you’re on, speak to your doctor. Ask if another medication can treat your condition that wouldn’t affect your libido or if the dosage can be altered. If the cause is the contraceptive you’re on, try another type.
Get treated: If a medical condition is causing you to lose your desire, have the problem treated.
Oestrogen or Testosterone treatment: Speak to your doctor about hormone treatment. Testosterone therapy does wonders for women with low sex drive, restoring it to normal levels. While oestrogen treatment, such as creams for vaginal dryness, will also help to normalise hormone levels. There are also several products on the market designed for boosting libido, but be sure to talk to your doctor about it.
Eat the right foods: Practice healthy eating habits. Include in your diet cloves, broccoli, black raspberries, figs, watermelon, eggs, ginseng, saffron, lettuce and ginger, which have been proven to help boost libido.
Sometimes to overcome sexual dysfunction, all it requires is the right circumstance, the right chemistry and the right person.