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Sexual Dysfunction: What is it exactly?  

Sexual Dysfunction: An Overview 

sexual dysfunctionSexual dysfunction is a term usually referring to either disturbances in sexual desire or functioning. Although sexual dysfunction is usually thought of to be a male-related disorder, it may be associated with either the female or male gender. The cause, treatment and various other issues related to sexual dysfunction follow on other pages of this web site, but suffice it to say that sexual dysfunction is a multidimensional phenomenon, composed of various psychological, social and physical dimensions, for which there are now several effective options for treatment.  


Sexual Dysfunctions: 

Psychologists generally define and diagnose sexual dysfunctions according to specific categories related to some of their basic characteristics including Sexual Desire Disorders, Sexual Arousal Disorders, Orgasmic Disorders, Sexual Pain Disorders, Sexual Dysfunctions Due to a General Medical Condition and Sexual Dysfunction Not Otherwise Specified. The DSM-IV Guidebook (Francis, First and Pincus, 1995) summarizes the different phases of “normal” sexual response and the sexual dysfunctions that are associated with each of these phases: 

(1) Sexual Desire - This phase consists of fantasies about sexual activity and the related desire for it. The DSM-IV disorders related to this phase are Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder and Sexual Aversion Disorder.

(2) Sexual Excitement - This phase consists of a subjective sense of sexual arousal and pleasure and the accompanying physiological changes. The major changes in the female consist of vasocongestion in the pelvis, vaginal lubrication and expansion, and swelling of the external genitalia.  The major changes in the male consist of penile tumescence and erection. The related DSM-IV disorders are Female Arousal Disorder and Male Erectile Disorder.

(3) Orgasm - This phase consists of a climax of sexual pleasure with accompanying rhythmic contractions and the release of sexual tension. In the female, there are vaginal contractions.  In the male, there is a sensation of ejaculatory inevitability, followed by the ejaculation of semen. The related DSM-IV disorders are Female and Male Orgasmic Disorder and Premature Ejaculation.

(4) Resolution - The fourth and final phase, consists of a sense in general relaxation, well-being and muscular relaxation.  During this phase, males are physiologically refractory to further erection and orgasm for variable periods of time.  In contrast, females may be able to respond to additional stimulation almost immediately.  There are no disorders related to this phase. 

The DSM-IV also includes two disorders related to physical discomfort during sexual intercourse such as Dyspareunia, which is pain occurring during intercourse and vaginismus, or vaginal spasms that interfere with sexual intercourse.

Psychologists and other mental health clinicians who treat patients for sexual disorders also occasionally see individuals with Paraphilias, which are unusual sexual preferences and those with Gender Identity Disorder which are problems with one’s sense of maleness or femaleness. 

Source: DSM-IV Casebook (Francis, First and Pincus,1995)

By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist Ph.D Candidate (Health Psychology) 

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