Physical and Mental Issues Affecting Sexual Health
Most people want to have a rich and fulfilling sex life. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Maybe you’ve tried talking with your partner or you’ve tried this cool new thing you saw online, and you want things to work. But it seems like it doesn't matter what you do, you’re just not into it.
Either it’s physically or emotionally unfulfilling, and you start to wonder “Am I the problem?”
First, we’d like to assure you that it’s not your fault. You’re not sabotaging your own sex life. The culprit behind your mediocre, or maybe nonexistent, sex drive or functionality could be caused by an underlying physical or mental issue you’re not even aware of.
According to the National Institute of Health, sexual dysfunctions are highly prevalent, affecting about 43% of women and 31% of men. It’s a common issue, but it’s not something we talk about.
Sexual dysfunction can be brought on by any number of things. Causes range from something as complicated as sexual trauma to something simpler and more treatable, like embarrassment jitters. The human body, especially the human brain, is a deeply complicated machine. Some maintenance work is to be expected, be that therapy or physical treatment.
Sexual dysfunction can feel isolating, but you’re not alone.
Physical Issues Affecting Sexual Health
A single health issue can have a domino effect into all the other aspects of your physical health, including your sexual health. According to the Mayo Clinic, low or high blood pressure, arthritis, heart and vascular disease, or hormonal imbalances can all cause diminished libido (sexual desire). So if you’re combating a physical health concern, that could be overlapping into your sexual health.
Some medications and hormone therapies can also zap your libido. If you’re currently undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, that’s likely to take a toll on your sexual desire. Similarly, if you’re in the process of transitioning and have elected to use hormones, you were likely advised that hormone replacement therapy will cause decreased libido and will reshape how you experience and respond to arousal. This is normal, especially in the first few months.
It’s also normal to experience some complications that result exclusively from the body.
Vaginismus is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “the involuntary tensing or contracting of muscles around the vagina.” This can cause pain and prevent whoever has it from experiencing sexual pleasure. It can be brought on spontaneously, or as the result of trauma to the vagina like tears from childbirth. However, the exact cause of vaginismus is not known.
Society often discourages female sexuality and undervalues female pleasure, so physical causes of sexual dysfunction in women can be harder to diagnose. Mayo Clinic even disclosed that they don’t have exact numbers on women affected because many are too embarrassed to discuss this issue or seek treatment. When speaking with your physician about your experience, advocate for yourself. Your pleasure is worth it.
A weak pelvic floor can cause a whole host of problems in men and woman, from pain during sex to incontinence. The pelvic floor tends to weaken as we age, but it can also be affected by obesity, prostate or ovarian cancers, or strain from chronic constipation. It’s an often forgotten but extremely important muscle group of the body. And like all muscle groups, it needs to be exercised and properly cared for. Some physical therapists specialize exclusively in the pelvic floor, and these experts will be best equipped to help you combat any issues you’re having down there.
One of the most common health problems affecting men’s sexual health is erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is the inability to get or maintain an erection. It is very common among penis owners, affecting roughly 30 million men in the United States. And although it’s more prevalent among older people or those with chronic health concerns, younger people can also experience erectile dysfunction. It’s usually a symptom of a broader health issue, such as metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, heart disease, or diabetes. And like most other sexual dysfunctions can also be brought on or compounded by mental health concerns like anxiety or depression.
Mental Issues Affecting Sexual Health
If you have any kind of mental illness, that could also be affecting your sex drive. It’s totally normal to have days where you’re not in the mood, or your energy is low, and all you want is to be left alone. Everyone has bad days or periods where you’re in a funk. Saying that, if it seems to be a chronic, persistent problem and you find yourself have more low energy, low esteem, low sex drive days, that could be an indicator you have depression.
Depression causes a chemical imbalance in your brain that makes it hard for your neurotransmitters to pick up on sex-related chemicals. It also affects your overall mood and energy level, which impacts your sex drive and ability to derive pleasure.
Sex can feel awkward or awaken personal insecurities like poor body image. If you find this to be the case, share your concerns with your partner or therapist. Just talking about it might be the morale boost you needed all along. Also, remember that sex is a skill and it has a learning curve. You don’t have to be perfect at the first attempt, or any attempt for that matter. Don’t let comparing yourself to what you read in books or see in porn rob you of your happiness.
Solutions for Physical and Mental Issues
There are solutions if you’re suffering from any of the above.
As always, we recommend you begin assessing the root of your problem with a trusted healthcare provider, be that your general practitioner or your therapist. These are the experts that will know the best course of action for you to take. Treatments for low sex drive could include medications, mechanical aids (think a penis pump or vibrator), or therapy. If your low libido is happening as a result of something else, continued treatment to resolve the root health cause will likely put you back on track sexually.
If depression is the source of your sexual woes, your doctor or psychiatrist might prescribe antidepressants. Millions of people have had their life changed for the better with the aid of a prescription. However, some antidepressants can cause low libido. If you find this to be the case, talk to your doctor about potentially switching medications. Sometimes it takes a while to find your goldilocks combination of medicines.
Outside of medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends trying the following actions at home:
Keep heaving sex.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Get buy-in from your partner.
Sex looks different for everyone. As long as it’s consensual and you aren’t doing anything that might cause profound and lasting damage to the body, there really isn’t a wrong way to have sex. There also isn’t an exact amount of sex you’re supposed to be having. How often you have sex and what your sex life looks like depends solely on you and your partner’s preferences.
Open communication is always of paramount importance, especially if you’re dealing with some type of sexual dysfunction. No matter what the root cause is, let your partner know what’s going on. They might not be able to solve the problem, but they can support you. And understanding where their partner is sexually will help them be a better partner to you.