Female Sexual Arousal Disorder (FSAD) - Signs and Treatment

Lack of sexual arousal can afflict women at any point in their lives. For some, this is only a temporary phase brought on by stressful circumstances. For others, the problem keeps on recurring or is persistent. These are the women who often suffer personal distress because they are unable to enjoy the pleasures of sexual intercourse.

This persistent or recurrent inability to achieve or maintain sexual arousal, often referred to as frigidity, is called female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD).

What is FSAD or Frigidity?

During the arousal stage of sexual response, a woman experiences vaginal wetness, increased sensations and engorgement in the clitoris and labia, and increased excitement and arousal. These changes make her body ready for sexual intercourse and she is likely to reach orgasm at the peak of arousal.

However, in women with FSAD, lack of vaginal lubrication and the missing swelling and sensations in the sex organs makes sexual activity a task rather than an activity to be enjoyed. The woman is not able to enjoy sex and may also end up experiencing pain during or after intercourse.

Signs and Symptoms of FSAD

It is believed that 20 percent of adult women suffer from this sexual arousal disorder. The common symptoms that are often used for diagnosis include:

  • Lack of sufficient vaginal lubrication on being sexually stimulated

  • Lack of engorgement of the female sex organs when sexually stimulated

  • The increase in sensitivity in the sex organs such as the clitoris and labia is missing despite adequate intensity and duration of sexual stimulation

  • Inability to maintain lubrication and engorgement till the completion of sexual intercourse

  • Pain during or after intercourse

  • Personal distress due to lack of sexual enjoyment which causes relationship problems with one's partner and may also lead to avoidance of sex

  • The lack of arousal is not due to an underlying medical condition, mental health disorder, substance abuse, or any other sexual dysfunction

  • Arousal is missing despite adequate foreplay and sexual stimulation by the partner

Causes of Sexual Arousal Disorder in Women

It is often quite difficult to accurately pinpoint the causes of frigidity in a woman. For some women, lack of arousal is something that has always been present. In others, the disorder may occur due to some physiological or emotional trauma.

It may occur as a side effect of surgeries or radiation therapy. Some women may experience this problem only with one partner or only in certain circumstances. On the other hand, there are others who are not able to get adequately aroused with anyone and under any circumstances.

Physiological Causes

There may be physiological causes of this disorder. For example, damage to the blood vessels in the pelvic area may interfere with the increase in blood flow characteristic of the arousal stage. Medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, and hypertension may cause damage to the blood vessels. The nerves in the area may also be damaged which may result in lack of sensations in the sex organs.

Lactation is a condition in which woman may not be able to reach or maintain adequate arousal during sexual activity. Hormonal changes are another reason for the lack of arousal in women. This may occur due to thyroid disorders, adrenal gland disorders, or surgical removal of the ovaries. A drop in the level of sex hormones during menopause is one of the major reasons of lack of sexual arousal response in women above the age of 40.

There are certain medications, which have been found to affect the level of sexual desire and arousal in women. These include antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, hypertension medications and sedatives. Since birth control pills interfere with the activity of the female sex hormones, these may also cause frigidity in women.

Psychological Causes

There may be psychological causes of FSAD as well. These include depression, stress, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, loss of a loved one, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Relationship problems such as unresolved conflicts or lack of emotional closeness may also cause frigidity in women.

Women with body image distortions may also find it difficult to get aroused. For example, although these women are of normal weight, they may consider themselves as overweight. These women often feel that they are being judged by their partner for being fat, although it may not be so.

Diagnosis and Treatment

FSAD is diagnosed when a woman reports her lack of sexual arousal to her doctor as a problem that is causing her personal distress and problems in her relationship. A complete medical and psychological history and medical tests may be required to ascertain any underlying physiological causes of this disorder.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the sexual arousal disorder. If lack of vaginal lubrication is due to menopause and aging, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be prescribed in the form of pills, patches, gels, or lubricating creams and lotions. Over-the-counter lubricating creams may also be useful for such women.

The Eros Clinical Therapy Device (Eros-CTD) is a medical device approved for the treatment of FSAD. It is a small vacuum pump that fits over the clitoris and produces a gentle sucking action. This action promotes blood flow in the area, thereby increasing sensations and vaginal lubrication.

There are no medications for the treatment of this sexual disorder; however, Viagra is being investigated as an option to increase blood flow to the sex organs of women.

If there are psychological causes of the disorder, psychotherapy may help treat these aspects of the woman's life. Sex therapy can help in dealing and overcoming the sexual difficulties by increasing the awareness of both the partners with regards to each other's sexuality.

Relationship therapy may help if the couple has unresolved conflicts and there is breakdown of communication between the two partners.

Besides these, a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and staying active are steps that can go a long way in improving a woman's sexual health as well as her overall health.

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