Treatments and drugs
Keep in mind that sexual dysfunction is a problem only if it bothers you. If it doesn't bother you, there's no need for treatment.
Because female sexual dysfunction has many possible symptoms and causes, treatment varies. It's important for you to communicate your concerns and understand your body and its normal sexual response. Also, your goals for your sex life are important in determining treatment and evaluating progress.
Women with sexual concerns most often benefit from a combined treatment approach that addresses medical as well as relationship and emotional issues.
Nonmedical treatment for female sexual dysfunction
To treat sexual dysfunction, your doctor might recommend that you start with these strategies:
- Talk and listen. Open communication with your partner makes a world of difference in your sexual satisfaction. Even if you're not used to talking about your likes and dislikes, learning to do so and providing feedback in a nonthreatening way sets the stage for greater intimacy.
- Practice healthy lifestyle habits. Go easy on alcohol — drinking too much can blunt your sexual responsiveness. Be physically active — regular physical activity can increase your stamina and elevate your mood, enhancing romantic feelings. Learn ways to decrease stress so you can focus on and enjoy your sexual experience.
- Seek counseling. Talk with a counselor or therapist who specializes in sexual and relationship problems. Therapy often includes education about how to optimize your body's sexual response, ways to enhance intimacy with your partner, and recommendations for reading materials or couples exercises.
- Use a lubricant. A vaginal lubricant may be helpful during intercourse if you have vaginal dryness or pain during sex.
- Try a device. Arousal may be enhanced with stimulation of the clitoris. Use a vibrator to provide clitoral stimulation. Although some women find clitoral vacuum suction devices helpful for enhancing sexual arousal, those devices can be expensive and no more effective than a vibrator.
Medical treatment for female sexual dysfunction
Effective treatment for sexual dysfunction often requires addressing an underlying medical condition or hormonal change. A prescription medication for premenopausal women with low sexual desire, known as flibanserin (Addyi), also offers a treatment option.
To treat sexual dysfunction tied to a medical condition, your doctor might recommend that you:
- Adjust or change medication that has sexual side effects
- Treat a thyroid problem or other hormonal condition
- Optimize treatment for depression or anxiety
- Try strategies for relieving pelvic pain or other pain problems
Treating female sexual dysfunction linked to a hormonal cause might include:
- Estrogen therapy. Localized estrogen therapy comes in the form of a vaginal ring, cream or tablet. This therapy benefits sexual function by improving vaginal tone and elasticity, increasing vaginal blood flow and enhancing lubrication.
- Androgen therapy. Androgens include testosterone. Testosterone plays a role in healthy sexual function in women as well as men, although women have much lower amounts of testosterone.
Androgen therapy for sexual dysfunction is controversial. Some studies show a benefit for women who have low testosterone levels and develop sexual dysfunction; other studies show little or no benefit.
The risks of hormone therapy may vary, depending on whether estrogen is given alone or with a progestin, your age, the dose and type of hormone, and health issues such as your risks of heart and blood vessel disease and cancer. Talk with your doctor about benefits and risks. In some cases, hormonal therapy might require close monitoring by your doctor.
Originally developed as an antidepressant, flibanserin (Addyi) is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for low sexual desire in premenopausal women.
A daily pill, Addyi may boost sex drive in women who experience low sexual desire and who find the experience distressing. Potentially serious side effects include low blood pressure, sleepiness, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and fainting, particularly if the drug is mixed with alcohol. Experts recommend that you stop taking the drug if you don't notice an improvement in your sex drive after eight weeks.
Potential treatments that need more research
More research is needed before these agents might be recommended for treatment of female sexual dysfunction:
- Tibolone. Tibolone is a synthetic steroid drug used in Europe and Australia for treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Due to concerns over increased risk of breast cancer and stroke in women taking tibolone, the drug isn't approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the U.S.
- Phosphodiesterase inhibitors. This group of medications has proved successful in treating erectile dysfunction in men, but the drugs don't work nearly as well in treating female sexual dysfunction. Studies looking into the effectiveness of these drugs in women show inconsistent results.
One drug, sildenafil (Viagra), may prove beneficial for some women who have sexual dysfunction as a result of taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of drugs used to treat depression. Don't take sildenafil if you use nitroglycerin for angina — a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.
Issues surrounding female sexual dysfunction are usually complex, so even the best medications aren't likely to work if other emotional or social factors remain unresolved.