Women and sexual problems

Also known as: Frigidity - self-care and Sexual dysfunction - female - self-care


Many women at some time in their life experience sexual dysfunction. This is a medical word that means that you are having problems with sex and are worried about it. Learn about the causes and symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Learn what might help you feel better about your sex life.

Common Sexual Problems

You may have sexual dysfunction if you are distressed by any of the following:

  • Rarely, or never, have a desire to have sex
  • Avoiding sex with your partner
  • Cannot get aroused or cannot stay aroused during sex even if you want sex
  • Cannot have an orgasm
  • Have pain during sex

Common Causes for Sexual Problems

Causes for sexual problems may include:

  • Getting older: a woman's sex drive often decreases with age. This is normal. It can be a problem when one partner wants sex more often than the other.
  • Perimenopause and menopause: You have less estrogen as you get older. This can cause thinning of your skin in the vagina and vaginal dryness. Because of this, sex may be painful.
  • Illnesses can cause problems with sex. Illnesses like cancer, bladder or bowel diseases, arthritis, and headaches may cause sexual problems.
  • Some medicines: Medicine for blood pressure, depression, and chemotherapy can decrease your sex drive or make it hard to have an orgasm.
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship problems with your partner.
  • Having been sexually abused in the past.

How to Make Sex Better

To make sex better, you can:

  • Get plenty of rest and eat well.
  • Limit alcohol, drugs, and smoking.
  • Feel your best. This helps with feeling better about sex.
  • Do Kegel exercises. Tighten and relax your pelvic muscles.
  • Focus on other sexual activities, not just intercourse.
  • Use birth control that works for both you and your partner. Discuss this ahead of time so you are not worried about an unwanted pregnancy.

How to Make Sex Less Painful

To make sex less painful, you can:

  • Spend more time on foreplay. Make sure you are aroused before intercourse.
  • Use a vaginal lubricant for dryness.
  • Try different positions for intercourse.
  • Empty your bladder before sex.
  • Take a warm bath to relax before sex.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider If:

  • You are distressed by a problem with sex
  • Worried about your relationship
  • Have pain or other symptoms with sex

Call your provider immediately if:

  • Intercourse is suddenly painful. You may have an infection or other medical problem that needs to be treated now.
  • You think you may have a sexually transmitted disease. You and your partner will want treatment right away.
  • You have a headache or chest pain after sex.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will do:

  • A physical examination, including a pelvic exam
  • An interview to ask you about your relationships, current sexual practices, attitudes toward sex, other medical problems you might have, medicines you are taking, and other possible symptoms


Get treatment for any other medical problems. This may help with problems with sex.

  • Your provider may be able to change or stop a medicine. This can help with sex problems.
  • Your provider may recommend that you use estrogen tablets or cream to put in and around your vagina. This helps with dryness.
  • If your provider cannot help you, they can refer you to a sex therapist.
  • You and your partner may be referred for counseling to help with relationship problems or to work out bad experiences you have had with sex.


Miller M. Sexual dysfunction in women. First Consult. Available at: www.clinicalkey.com/#!/content/medical_topic/21-s2.0-1016356?scrollTo=%23top. Elsevier BV. Revised Mar 11, 2014. Accessed Jan 14, 2015.

Moore CK. Female sexual function and dysfunction. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Novick AC, Partin AW, and Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 30.

Review date:
December 07, 2016
Reviewed by:
Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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