Tag Archives: dysfunction

Sexual Disorder and Sexual Dysfunction, Is There A Difference?


The use of the words sexual dysfunction and sexual disorder when searched often brings up articles defining sexual disorder as sexual dysfunction. The usage, of course, is incorrect because these two subjects are so vastly different.

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Sexual dysfunction is actually an occurrence during the act of sex that has become problematic for one or both partners. These are things such as low libido or stamina, erectile dysfunction, or vaginal dryness. If any of these things occur and neither of the partners has a real problem with it, it is actually not considered a dysfunction.

When someone has a problem with their sexual function it can have a negative effect on more areas than just the area of sex. It can affect a person’s mood and can seep into other relationships because of the emotional pain and embarrassment which flows through attitudes and outlook unknowingly.

Sexual dysfunction has a number of causes both in the emotional and physical realm. It could also be caused by a combination of factors instead of just one thing. Sometimes a medical condition can have an effect on a person’s sexual function but because the person doesn’t realize the problem is medically related it affects them mentally; which can create a kind of negative unending circle. Some medical conditions which are examples of this are cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression.

When looking at cardiovascular disease in connection with sexual dysfunction we can see that both men and women can be affected this way because the blood vessels change in such a way that they are unable to effectively supply extremities with necessary blood. When this happens the genital area, either male or female, does not have the blood flow it needs to operate properly.

Diabetes affects a person in a similar fashion, but diabetes actually affects the nerves in the tissue of the genital area.

Depression affects people on a whole other spectrum of the body. Because the chemicals in the brain are not working properly they cause a person’s sex drive or libido to suffer. This is generally backed up by the inability to really feel any type of pleasure. This can in turn cause a loss of self confidence. Self confidence is highly important when recovering from depression, this can cause the same negative circle mentioned earlier.

Sexual dysfunction does have similar effects for men and women in some instances, but there are other things involved in sexual dysfunction that affect each person differently.

In men for example, there are some differing psychological aspects to be considered when looking at sexual dysfunction, these are concern for how they are performing sexually, marital difficulties, and feelings of guilt.

In women hormones and emotional/psychological issues seem to cause a lot of problems in this area. Things that cause a flux in the level of a woman’s hormones are having a baby or moving into menopause. Other things that can lead to sexual dysfunction in women are not having a desire for sex, or losing arousal during sex, being unable to have an orgasm or feeling pain during sex. A women’s emotional well being can have a lot to do with her ability to function sexually. If she is under a great deal of stress or anxiety, having conflicts with her partner or having issues with her body image can also become problematic.

There seem to be a lot of treatments for sexual dysfunction, but sometimes a health problem has to be treated first. Sometimes the treatment for the health problem is the cause of the sexual dysfunction and patients have to have treatment as a side effect of their medication. One way to avoid this would be to adjust the medication. This would be most ideal solution. When that doesn’t work other options are given to the patient, they can include medications for impotence or strengthening of the genitals.

Sexual disorder is completely different when compared to sexual dysfunction. Sexual disorder includes acts or behaviors that are described as sexual deviancy. These sexual acts or desires include a variety of preferences. These can include animals, various objects or different kinds of materials. Other preferences can include children or pain, either to themselves or others.

There are many categories under the sexual disorder heading and quite a few subcategories as well. In fact there are far too many to explain all of them in this short article.

Disorders under the paraphilias heading include exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, transvestism, and voyeurism. These are only a few disorders under this heading. Exhibitionists have a propensity to display their genitalia to people they don’t know. They go through cycles where this action feels completely necessary.

Fetishists have an object they need to have involved in sex acts. Usually if the object is not there the person will either have difficulty with orgasm, or, will not be able to orgasm at all. Objects are generally anything from a certain type of material to a garment.

Frotteurism is a need to rub a person’s body parts against another person and generally ahs the same type of cycles as an exhibitionist does, where this action feels completely necessary, it is a compulsion.

Transvestism is when a man feels a need to either imagine himself in women’s or actually does dress in women’s clothing in order to become aroused.

Voyeurism is when a person watches other people get undressed, usually unbeknownst to the person undressing.

There are many more disorders that involve things that the general population would consider weird or sinister.  In fact many sexual disorders if uncontrolled will cause the person with the disorder to end up in jail, unfortunately there does not seem to be a cure for sexual disorders and thus the patient must depend on their own self control.

Sexual dysfunction and sexual disorder have similar names and are often intertwined when being described, but I feel that I have shown just how different they really are.

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Sexual Dysfunctions


Sexual dysfunctions are conditions that impair sexual satisfaction.  This can manifest as reduced desire to initiate or sustain sexual activity, or lack of ability to achieve sexual satisfaction.  Epidemiological data suggests that the prevalence rate for all sexual disorders is approximately 31% for men and 43% for women.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 399)  That rate is given to fluctuate, however, depending on the definition of what a “dysfunction” actually entails.  The reality, for Blaney & Millon, is that any particular label or operational definition is imperfect and subject to alterative interpretations.  The key consideration for the therapist is that we must been seen as nonjudgmental.

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I am not overly surprised by the suggestion that Americans have never learned to be comfortable talking about things sexual.  “Even couples who have been together for many years, and experienced physical intimacy hundreds of times, are still often most reluctant to reveal their sexual desires, fears, and concerns to each other.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 400)  This is the 21st Century; it’s perfectly acceptable (even desirable)… this is foreign to me.

“Rewarding sexual activity requires the adequate functioning of at least three organ systems: cardiovascular, hormonal, and neurological.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 401)  These systems can be adversely affected by medications, particularly SSRI Antidepressants.  Virtually any medical condition that affects those systems; including illnesses, treatments, procedures, and changes- could also serve as precipitating factors.  Finally, culture and psychosocial variables weigh in as contributing factors, although “many people with sexual dysfunctions report none of these factors and many with one or more of these risk factors report satisfying and functional sexual lives.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 402)

If a regular partner is a variable, it is preferable to have them present and willing to participate in the process.  “The involvement of the partner of the symptomatic client in treatment is widely believed to play an important (even critical) facilitative role in sex therapy.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 404)  Even if the partner is unwilling or unable to be present for the office visits, partner cooperation and participation (along with sensitivity to partner issues on the part of the therapist) are “good enough” to make reasonable progress.

Knowing what is at stake is a key consideration for therapists to measure or ascertain.  What if they therapy fails?  Will the relationship end or will it continue?  “Having more at stake in treatment (i.e., the continuation of the relationship) can sometimes serve as an important motivator for one or both partners.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 404)  However, this presents negative aspects as well… primarily because it is an outward indication that there is serious dissatisfaction with the relationship.

Sexual pain disorders are another dimension of sexual dysfunctions that are often neglected.  Recurrent or persistent genital pain in a female, typed dyspareunia, often causes marked distress.  Vulvodynia, characterized by chronic vulvar discomfort or pain, is also not uncommon.  The third common complaint is involuntary contractions or spasms of the outer third of the vaginal barrel, called vaginismus.  This condition makes intercourse painful or impossible.

Treatment of sexual pain disorders always begins with a careful and comprehensive gynecological exam.  “Among the many medical treatments that have been used, with at least some success, are the following:  topical creams, oral medications, biofeedback, physical therapy, cognitive behavioral sex therapy, pain management, local anesthetic agents, topical estrogen, electrical stimulation of the vestibular area, and surgery.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 422)

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Reference

Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.