- NANCY A. PHILLIPS, M.D.Wellington School of Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand
Sexuality is a complex process, coordinated by the neurological, vascular and endocrine systems.1
Female sexual dysfunction can be subdivided into desire, arousal, orgasmic and sexual pain disorders. Sexual pain disorders include dyspareunia and vaginismus.2
Establishment of the patient's sexual orientation is necessary for appropriate evaluation and management. Nonjudgmental, direct questions best achieve this goal. Because gender identity conflicts are often a cause of sexual dysfunction, the mode and type of questions asked by physicians should create an environment where patients may openly express their concerns. Specialized counseling is important for these patients.
The sexual dysfunction should be defined in terms of onset and duration and situational versus global effect. A situational dysfunction occurs with a specific partner, in a certain setting or in a definable circumstance.
The presence of more than one dysfunction should be ascertained, because considerable interdependence may exist. For example, a patient complaining about decreased desire might have a primary orgasmic disorder from insufficient stimulation, with decreased desire developing secondarily as a result of unsatisfying sexual encounters (Figure 1).8 Thus, treating the orgasmic disorder would indirectly enhance desire; whereas, treating a desire disorder would be unsuccessful and perhaps add to patient frustration and perpetuate the cycle of dysfunction.