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Sexual dysfunction in women: Management

Jan L Shifren, MD
Section Editor
Robert L Barbieri, MD
Deputy Editor
Sandy J Falk, MD, FACOG


Sexual problems are highly prevalent in women. In the United States, approximately 40 percent of women have sexual concerns and 12 percent report distressing sexual problems [1]. Female sexual dysfunction takes different forms, including lack of sexual desire, impaired arousal, inability to achieve orgasm, pain with sexual activity, or a combination of these issues. Treatment must be tailored to the sexual dysfunction diagnosis or diagnoses and to underlying physical and psychological factors.

The management of female sexual dysfunction will be reviewed here. The epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation of female sexual dysfunction and evaluation and treatment of sexual pain disorders are discussed separately. The epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of female orgasmic disorder are also described separately. (See "Sexual dysfunction in women: Epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation" and "Approach to the woman with sexual pain" and "Differential diagnosis of sexual pain in women" and "Female orgasmic disorder: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis" and "Treatment of female orgasmic disorder".)


Female sexual dysfunction is multifactorial, often with several different etiologies contributing to the problem. Nonetheless, careful evaluation and use of available therapies can improve sexual function for many women.

Complete the evaluation and diagnosis — Evaluate the patient for all sexual issues and associated physical or psychological factors before starting treatment. Most women with sexual complaints have issues that impact more than one phase of the normal sexual response cycle (desire, arousal, orgasm) or may complain of a general decrease in sexual satisfaction. As an example, if a woman complains of decreased libido, a full evaluation may also reveal issues with arousal or pain. We restrict use of pharmacologic therapy to women who meet diagnostic criteria for a sexual disorder and for whom non-pharmacologic interventions have proven ineffective. A sexual disorder is defined as a sexual problem that is persistent or recurrent and causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. It must not be better accounted for by a general medical or psychiatric condition (ie, anxiety and depression) or due exclusively to the direct physiologic effects of a substance or medication (See "Sexual dysfunction in women: Epidemiology, risk factors, and evaluation", section on 'Diagnostic evaluation'.)

In addition, sexual complaints usually arise in the context of other physical, psychological, and relationship issues.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 14, 2017.
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