Sexuality and how we express it is an important part of being human. When there are difficulties in sexual functioning, this can lead to depression, difficulties in relationships and low self esteem. There are many women of color who have experienced or are continuing to experience sexual problems but do not have the information as to what they are experiencing or even that there are solutions for them.
According to the 2004 EBONY Magazine Female Sex Survey, of the 8000 respondents, 35% reported having difficulty achieving orgasm, 30% had a lack of sexual arousal 25% had difficulty maintaining or achieving lubrication and 12% reported pain in and around their genitals. Does this sound familiar to you? Are you one of millions of women experiencing some form of sexual difficulty and feel that this is something you have to live with? Well, you don’t! They have and continue to make great strides in understanding and developing medications to help women have more fulfilling sex lives.
Sexual dysfunction is defined as persistent or recurrent problems that occur during the sexual response cycle. The sexual response cycle is the physiological and psychological pathways that humans go through during sex. The first phase of the response cycle begins with desire, where a person fantasizes about and wants to be intimate with someone. The next phase is excitement where a person becomes aroused and experiences pleasure. The third phase is the Orgasm. The fourth and last phase is the resolution phase where a person relaxes and their body returns to baseline functioning.
Sexual disorders occur through out the response cycle; they include low sexual desire, sexual arousal disorders, orgasmic disorders, sexual pain disorders and secondary and other sexual dysfunctions. Women may experience more than one problem. There are many contributing factors, including emotional, psychological and physiological, to what causes these disorders to develop.
Sexual desire disorders: occur when a person is generally not interested in sex, but once they begin can perform adequately and even enjoy it. Our brain is our biggest sex organ! When women are overwhelmed with their life tasks (i.e. work, kids, spouse, extracurricular activities), the idea of having sex is the last thing on their minds, especially if they are angry at their partners. Men on the other hand are more able to compartmentalize their brains even though they may have a lot of things going on, they are able to close those things off and focus on the task at hand- sex. Sexual aversion disorder is when a person feels total disgust at the idea of engaging in sex, and therefore will not initiate or engage in sexual activity.
With sexual arousal disorders, women may desire sex but do not become sufficiently aroused to complete the act. This is usually due to a lack of adequate lubrication which facilitates vaginal intercourse.
Orgasmic disorders occurs when a woman has desire to have sex and is able to have sufficient lubrication, however, she is only able to partially climax or not at all.
Sexual pain disorders are those where the woman experienced pain during the sexual act. Dyspareunia, is where there is genital pain at some point during intercourse, particularly during insertion. Vaginismus is a severe spasm of the vagina that prevents penetration.
Secondary and other sexual dysfunctions are sexual disorders which are caused by a medical condition (i.e. diabetes, hypertension, spinal injuries, etc.). In addition these conditions can be caused by substances such as alcohol and/or drugs.
Since the advent of Viagra for men, there have been a variety of remedies researched in the use of female sexual dysfunction. Some of these treatments include using Viagra (sildenafil) in women, hormone therapy including hormonal cream. Psychotherapy as well as more behavioral techniques has been used in conjunction with medical treatment to aid in treating the symptoms of sexual dysfunction. If it is a medical (Diabetes) or mental health (depression) condition, it is important to treat them first and they could be the underlying cause for the sexual symptoms.
Talk to your partner:
It is important to have open communication with your partner about what you are experiencing. More than likely your partner has noticed a difference in how you are relating to each other sexually. If not, that is more reason to talk about the pink elephant in the middle of the room!
- Do not talk about your problem when you are about to have sex. That is the wrong time to have a discussion. Discuss the issue when you are in the living room fully clothed so that you can both focus on the issue at hand.
- It is important to be honest about what you have been experiencing but not to point fingers at your partner.
- Communication with your partner about what feels good and where can help with the situation without having to go to the doctor. This can also be fun as you can show your partner the places you like to be touched and how.
- Be open about the possibilities about going to a medical doctor and/or a psychotherapist who specializes in sexual issues to help you. The therapist may also ask to see you partner for couples counseling.
Talk to your doctor:
Your gynecologist is the medical person you need to be talking with about the symptoms you have been experiencing.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is your body and you have a right to know.
- Make sure you are armed with information. Since this is a new field there are many gynecologists who are not up on sexual medicine. So be your own advocate and educate your doctor. If your doctor is not open to this then it is time to find another doctor who is open to you taking an active part in your treatment.
- It is important to request baseline hormonal functioning. Hormones are a delicate dance within women’s bodies and thus if one hormone is off can cause a ripple effect in our bodies
- Pay attention to the medications that you are on as they may have an affect on your sexual functioning. It is important to make sure your gynecologist is aware of your medications.
Whether you are 25 or 75 years old, you are entitled to a happy and healthy sex life. Women of color need to be more proactive with their healthcare and work with their doctors to find the best solutions. Sex is the most natural and amazing part of what it means to be human- don’t settle for mediocrity. You deserve better!