By Grant J Everett
Sexual dysfunction is a disturbance in one or more phases of the sexual response cycle, which covers every step from arousal to orgasm. Erectile problems and vaginal lubrication difficulties are its two most common hallmarks. As well as “mechanical” difficulties, sexual dysfunction can also mean not having the desire to have sex (libido issues). Keep in mind that sexual dysfunction means different things for different people, so unless your sexual performance bothers you, you shouldn’t worry.
Sexual dysfunction has a multitude of causes. Taking psychiatric medications can, unfortunately, be a major one. Some antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilisers can impact on your functioning in the bedroom (Conaglen, 2013). Even without the medication factor, simply having a mental health issue statistically means you’ll have a higher chance of experiencing physical intimacy issues. Up to a massive 60% of people with a psychotic illness reported suffering some kind of a problem behind closed doors, let alone all the ones who stay silent about it (Boggs, 2015)
NOTE: We need to stress that taking psychiatric medication isn’t always the cause of sexual dysfunction, and that you should never suddenly stop taking any prescribed medication without speaking with your doctor.
What can be done?
Sex therapists, as the name suggests, specialise in everything sexual. A sex therapist can teach you how to optimise your body’s responses, enhance intimacy levels with your partner, and may even recommend some naughty exercises. A popular treatment they may suggest are Kegel (pelvic floor) exercises. Kegel exercises are a great way for men to strengthen the muscles they use to gain an erection and to hold back ejaculation, while the same exercises can help women to orgasm more easily, frequently, and intensely (Daryl, 2016, & Stang, 2015).
If you’re considering seeing a sex therapist, then filling in something like an ASEX sheet may help with this decision. ASEX stands for the Arizona Sexual Experience Scale, and is used to assess whether it’s worthwhile seeking professional help for sexual concerns. As always this is a guide only. You can access the ASEX here:
Your lifestyle will play a big role, too. Drinking too much can blunt your sexual responsiveness, while cigarettes will restrict blood flow. Engaging in regular physical activity will serve to increase your stamina and elevate your mood, too.
If a sexual dysfunction situation turns out to be a direct result of medication, there are three options. Option one is to wait to develop a tolerance, but this particular solution only works in about 10% of people and can take up to six months . A second option is to get a doctor to lower the dosage. Option three is to substitute your current medication for a different one altogether. If you’ve already been tried on multiple medications and haven’t had a good response until the one you’re on now then this might not be practical, so it’s really a matter of balancing the pros and cons.
Serious issues with vaginal dryness can be helped by factors such as plenty of foreplay, using a water-based lubricant, and taking things very gradually. For some women, Oestrogen therapy (delivered by a vaginal ring, cream or tablet) can improve vaginal elasticity and blood flow, and enhance natural lubrication (Pick, 2016).
Guys, we hardly need to go into detail about the option of getting a Viagra (sildenafil) prescription. Unlike the old days, though, the market is flooded by heaps of generic virility drugs that all contain the same core ingredients, which means they’re cheaper than ever. While we’re on the subject of Viagra, women who take a class of antidepressants known as SSRIs may also benefit from a little blue pill (Nordqvist, 2015).
Many people with a psychotic illness have a much higher chance of diabetes (and related circulation issues), which can put us at further risk of sexual dysfunction (Neithercott, 2012). Getting your blood sugar checked regularly may be a good move, as managing the symptoms of diabetes can directly improve your sexual functioning.
Don’t forget to be honest and open with your partner, as discussing your likes and dislikes is essential for gaining greater levels of intimacy.
Conaglen, H & Conaglen, J (2013). Drug-induced sexual dysfunction in men and women. http://www.nps.org.au/australian-prescriber/articles/drug-induced-sexual-dysfunction-in-men-and-women
Boggs, W. (2015). Sexual Problems in Schizophrenia Need More Attention, Report Urges. http://www.psychcongress.com/article/sexual-problems-schizophrenia-need-more-attention-report-urges-21722
Daryl (2016). Benefits Of Kegel Exercises For Men. http://www.risingmaster.com/benefits-of-kegel-exercises/
Stang (2015). Kegel Exercises. http://www.healthline.com/health/kegel-exercises#Overview1
Pick, M (2016). Treatments For Vaginal Dryness. https://www.womentowomen.com/menopause-perimenopause/treatments-for-vaginal-dryness/
Nordqvist, C (2015). Viagra: Uses, Health Benefits and Risks. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232912.php
Neithercott, T (2012). Sex and Diabetes: What You Wanted to Know. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2012/nov/sex-and-diabetes-what-you-wanted-to-know.html