Sexual Functioning - American Sexual Health Association

Sexual Functioning

An important part of overall sexual health is healthy sexual functioning—being able to experience sexual pleasure and satisfaction when desired.

Sexual functioningSexual pleasure can be experienced in many ways, from solo masturbation to oral sex to sensual massage to a range of other possibilities. When we are sexually exited, our bodies respond in certain ways. A racing heart, rapid breathing, a rush of blood to the genitals. For women, the vagina will become more lubricated and the clitoris will swell. For men, the increased blood flow leads to an erection. This is all part of the sexual response cycle.

But what happens when something in this response cycle doesn’t work as expected? Maybe a woman has trouble getting aroused or finds her body producing less lubrication, making intercourse painful. A man might have trouble getting or maintaining an erection, or may have difficulty reaching orgasm.

Sexual problems like these are not uncommon, and can have either psychological or physical causes. Health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or other chronic illnesses can affect your sexual functioning, as can hormonal changes. The emotional effect of a chronic condition can impact sexual health too. Stress, anxiety or depression may even cause sexual difficulties in men and women. Medications to treat these conditions can also add to the problem.

But when does the occasional problem become a more serious one? When sexual difficulties are more than occasional, when they are persistent and upsetting and interfere with a healthy sex life, it is time to talk to a healthcare professional. The good news about sexual difficulties is that there are solutions. Sometimes, medication might be the answer. In other cases, therapy may be the right approach. What is important is to find the help you need to have a satisfying sex life.

Learn more about sexual functioning and men >>

Learn more about sexual functioning and women >>

Talking to a Partner

When there are sexual difficulties in a relationship, both parters are affected. For example, erectile dysfucntion (ED) isn’t just a man’s problem—his partner is affected as well. ED can cause a man to withdraw from sex and his partner. A female partner may blame herself, thinking that she is no longer desirable. She may also blame her partner and suspect infidelity as the cause behind his ED. A lack of communication can be destructive for couples dealing with ED. For men in relationships dealing with ED, talking with a partner is an essential part of managing the condition.

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