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Sexual Dysfunction

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What is sexual dysfunction?

Sexual dysfunction refers to a problem occurring during any phase of the sexual response cycle that prevents the individual or couple from experiencing satisfaction from the sexual activity. The sexual response cycle traditionally includes excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Desire and arousal are both part of the excitement phase of the sexual response.

What are the types of sexual dysfunction?

Sexual dysfunction generally is classified into four categories:

  • Desire disorders —lack of sexual desire or interest in sex
  • Arousal disorders —inability to become physically aroused or excited during sexual activity
  • Orgasm disorders —delay or absence of orgasm (climax)
  • Pain disorders — pain during intercourse

Common Types of Dysfunction


  • Erectile dysfunction (impotence)
  • Low sex drive or libido
  • Peyronie’s disease (penile curvature)
  • Premature ejaculation and other ejaculatory problems


  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Difficulty becoming or staying aroused
  • Inability to have an orgasm
  • Painful intercourse

Often, the symptoms of sexual dysfunction can be the result of one or more underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, insomnia, or hormone imbalance. Many prescription and nonprescription drugs can also cause sexual side effects.

In women, painful intercourse can be caused by a variety of factors, from vaginal infections to life-threatening conditions such as ectopic pregnancy. If a woman has sudden, severe pelvic pain, she should see a doctor right away.


Since the symptoms of sexual dysfunction can be the result of one or more underlying conditions, it is important to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis. Another good reason to see a doctor is that many sexual problems can be treated successfully.

The specialists at UT Southwestern Medical Center carefully evaluate your medical history and current condition to offer the most appropriate and effective therapies available.

Factors our specialists take into account when designing a treatment plan:

  • Conditions affecting the lungs, liver, kidneys, nerves, arteries, or veins
  • Conflicts or lack of communication between partners
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Excessive tobacco use (especially in men)
  • Health problems that can inhibit sex, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury
  • Hormone deficiencies
  • Insomnia or lack of sleep
  • Medications such as antihistamines, blood-pressure medicines, antidepressants, and others
  • Previous sexual trauma
  • Psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, guilt, and depression
  • Surgery that has affected the pelvic organs, genitals, or hormones

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