Sexual Dysfunctions

Disorders of Sexual Interest/Desire and Arousal

Do you or your partner's lack of sexual desire and arousal cause distress in your relationship? Does this problem lessen the quality of your life?

What is a Sexual Interest and Arousal Disorder?

Female sexual interest/arousal disorder is persistent lack of, or significantly reduced, interest in sexual activity and/or lack of arousal in response to sexual activity.

Male hypoactive desire disorder is persistently absent or deficient sexual/erotic thoughts or fantasies, or desire for sexual activity

(Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, pg. 367)

What causes the disorder?

Sexual desire consists of sexual drive, sexual motivation and sexual wish. This desire can be decreased due to a person’s age, environmental factors in a person’s life, hormones, prescribed medications, legal substances such as alcohol, and illegal substances such as cocaine and ecstasy.

Biological factors- Medical illnesses can often cause sexual dysfunctions in both men and women. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, kidney failure and spinal cord injuries are common diseases that contribute to sexual dysfunction. Women who experience vaginal irritation or pain during sex can have lower sexual desire and arousal. Gynecological cancers, use of tampons and douches or infections can commonly contribute to a decrease in sexual desire.

"Several prescription drugs can diminish sexual drive and arousal and interfere with orgasm" (Clayton, 2007). Individuals who are prescribed medicine such as anti psychotics, antidepressants, lithium, and high blood pressure medicines may experience a decrease in sex drive as a side effect. Recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol can also cause sexual dysfunctions.

Psychological factors- Sexual desire can be greatly influenced by a person's emotional well-being, as well as beliefs and values about their sexuality. Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia may cause a decrease in sex drive due to lack of interest in engagement. Earlier trauma such as childhood abuse or loss of a loved one can have a big impact on the desire to engage in sexual activities with someone else.

"People who have been taught that sex is dirty, disgusting, or sinful or is a "necessary evil" understandably may lack the desire to have sex" (van Lankveld, 2008). Without proper education, some people may not know their own body and therefore do not know how to find pleasure in the activity with someone else. Other people may get anxiety from sex by worrying too much about when they will reach their orgasm or if they are performing correctly. In return, the anxiety can turn into a lack of sexual interest.

Interpersonal factors- Stressful factors in a person's life may hugely impact their desire to engage in sexual activities. Problems in their relationships, stress at home and work, or financial stress are common causes.

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Common Misconceptions about Sexual Desire

Myth #1- A women's low sex drive is all hormonal

Most people believe that low libido in women causes the decrease in sex drive. This is not true, the cause is much more deeper than that! "Libido is a lot more complex than that, and overlaps with every sphere of human experience, including vascular health, mental health, nutrition, body image, stress level, and the quality of your relationship generally." Dr. Juan J. Remos, Miami Institute for Age Management and Intervention

Myth #2- Everyone is having more sex than you

When you hear your best friend boast about having sex 5 times a week or your sister bragging about her multiple orgasms, you may feel that everyone has a great sex life BUT you! This is not true and often, these people are over exaggerating. You should never compare your sex life to someone else's. There is no set standard for how often a couple should have sex. A normal sex life is what best suits you and your partner.

Myth #3- All men have a high sex drive

Truth is, men do not think about sex 24/7! Not all men have a high sex drive either. Sexual desire is more than just testosterone levels, even for men their sexual desire can be influenced by stress, aging, medication and environmental factors. "This myth has caused men to not seek treatment and has also led to misdiagnosis by health professionals" (Montgomery, 2008).

Treatment Options

Sex Therapy- The couple, along with one male and one female therapist, engage in therapy together. "The aim is to reestablish open communication in the relationship" (Montgomery, 2008). Together the couple and sex therapists discuss problems in their sexual relationship. They are given homework assignments to complete and discuss during their next therapy session. Typical assignments start with foreplay and increase as the sessions go on. Couples are asked to focus on the entire process of the sexual response cycle and the emotions that evolve, rather than strictly achieving orgasm. Couples are discouraged from engaging in sexual activities other than those assigned by the therapists.

Psychotherapy- This type of therapy focuses on unresolved unconscious conflicts of early development. The client and therapist work on resolving these conflicts and understanding how they can impact their sexual desire. "Behavioral techniques are used to teach people skills to enhance their sexual experiences and to improve communication and interactions with their sexual partners" (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, pg. 376).

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy- When sexual desire disorders are caused by psychological factors, CBT can work by focusing on the irrational beliefs, unrealistic expectations, the decrease in desire for intercourse and lack of physical stimulation. Together the couple can find ways to better communicate to understand each other and turn the negative thoughts into functional thoughts. Role playing and homework assignments are part of this treatment.

How to find a sex therapist

Sex therapists are like most therapists, but they focus on treatment for sexual problems. Sex therapists should meet this criteria:

  1. The therapist must have knowledge of the anatomical and physiological bases of the sexual response. Either have medical experience or work closely with medical doctors.
  2. Educational background in either psychology, psychiatry, social work or psychiatric nursing.
  3. Must be able to demonstrate extensive post-graduate training specifically within the areas of sexual function and dysfunction, sex counseling, and sex therapy.
  4. Therapist should be a skilled marital, family or group therapist with experience working with multiple persons during a session.
  5. The therapist may practice by the Code of Ethics

Website: gives you a clear view of what to look for in a sex therapist in order to obtain the correct treatment for your disorder.


Clayton, A.H. (2007). Epidemiology and neurobiology of female sexual dysfuction. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 4, 260-268.

Montgomery, K. A. (2008). Sexual Desire Disorders. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 5(6), 50–55.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal Psychology: Sixth Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

van Lankveld, J. (2008). Problems with sexual interest and desire in women. In D.L. Rowland & L. Incrocci (Eds.), Handbook of sexual and gender identity disorders (pp. 154-187). Hoboken, NJL Wiley.