Sexual Health & Dysfunction
Sex is often a fun and satisfying part of life, and it’s important to remember that a wide variety of sexual desires, preferences, and behaviors are considered normal and healthy.
However, sex can also become stressful, confusing, or worrisome. Many people face challenges around sexual desire, arousal, satisfaction, and intimacy with partners. These struggles can come up for individuals of any sexual orientation or gender identity.
When difficulties like these become a recurring source of worry or interfere with day-to-day life, therapy – including, but not limited to, sex therapy – is one way to work toward resolving them.
Mental health issues related to sexual health
Prevalence of mental health challenges related to sex
Because most challenges related to sex are not diagnosed mental health conditions, it’s difficult to know exactly how prevalent they are.
However, some sources suggest that sexual dissatisfaction is fairly common. For example, a large global survey found that only 44% of individuals reported being happy with their sex lives. Challenges around desire and arousal are also common, with the Cleveland Clinic reporting that 43% of women and 31% of men experiencing some kind of sexual dysfunction.
General issues related to sexual dysfunction
Sex therapists and therapists versed in sexual health and dysfunction can provide support around a wide variety of topics. Some of the most common scenarios include:
- Lack of desire or mismatched desires: You or your partner(s) may not feel as much sexual desire as you want to, or you may not experience the same amount or frequency of desire.
- Challenges with sexual arousal: You might have difficulty feeling sexually aroused or achieving orgasm, or you may experience orgasm sooner than you want to. Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation fall under this category.
- Issues relating to sexual trauma: Individuals who have been victims of sexual trauma often experience ongoing challenges around sex and sexuality.
- Challenges relating to sexual orientation or gender identity: If you’re struggling with any aspect of your sexual orientation or gender identity (coming out or facing discrimination, for example), these challenges may affect your sex life as well.
- Painful intercourse: Though it can be caused by underlying medical issues, painful intercourse can sometimes be related to stress or anxiety around sex.
- Paraphilic disorders: The DSM-5 — the current guide used by mental health professionals to diagnose clinical conditions — includes several specific sexual disorders, called paraphilic disorders. These include exhibitionistic disorder and voyeuristic disorder, among others.
Mental health issues related to sexual health
Mental health symptoms with roots in sex-related concerns vary widely, but a few of the most common ones include:
- Anxiety or worry: You may be preoccupied with your worries about sexual concerns, or even find that your anxiety in this area interferes with some aspect of sex.
- Sadness or depression: Stressful, traumatic, or simply unsatisfying sexual experiences can lead to feeling sad, hopeless, or depressed.
- Self-esteem issues: Especially in a culture that places a high value on sex appeal, issues around sex can challenge an individual’s sense of self-worth.
- Conflicts with partners: Sexual difficulties often lead to conflicts between partners in intimate relationships.
What to do if you’re experiencing challenges related to sex
If you’re experiencing any variety of sexual issue, consider one or more of these options:
- Therapy. Find a therapist who can help you understand your challenges and find strategies for improving your related symptoms. You might work with a therapist on your own, or you and your partner(s) might choose to attend therapy together. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.)
- Check-ups: Because sexual difficulties can be related to medical conditions, it’s important to stay up-to-date with your medical appointments. Scheduling a check-up with your primary care doctor can help you rule out physical conditions that may contribute to your symptoms.
- Exercise: Some studies show that regular physical activity can decrease stress, which may increase your sex drive.
- Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you have experienced any kind of sexual trauma, the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline can also provide support and resources at 1-800-656-4673.
How to find a therapist for sexual health
Therapists differ in their approaches to treating sexual challenges. Some have training specifically in sex therapy, while others may use more general approaches to mental health concerns. Some popular options include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness Practices
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
- Couples Therapy
- Psychodynamic Therapy
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.