What to do about Sex Problems Caused by Medical Problems

couple walking down the street

Several medical conditions and treatments can impact sexual function and lead to sexual dysfunction. To know and address these issues is to keep your sex life healthy and happy.

Here are some common sexual dysfunctions related to medical conditions or treatments – and what to do about them:

Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

ED is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual activity. It can be caused by diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hormonal imbalances, neurological disorders or side effects of certain medications. Treatments include

  1. medications,
  2. vacuum erection devices,
  3. hormone therapy or
  4. counseling to address underlying psychological factors.

In my Charlotte, NC, relationship counseling practice, I have found #4 to be most helpful with most couples.

Sexual Desire Disorders

Depression, anxiety, chronic pain or certain medications can reduce sexual desire – which can cause distress in relationships, obviously. Treatment may involve managing the underlying condition, adjusting medications, hormone therapy or counseling.

Painful Intercourse (Dyspareunia)

Conditions like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, vulvodynia and menopausal can cause pain during intercourse. The pain can be caused by inflammation, hormonal changes or nerve damage. Treatment options include

  1. medications,
  2. hormone therapy,
  3. physical therapy,
  4. counseling and
  5. lifestyle modifications to manage the underlying condition and alleviate pain.

Sometimes a combination of treatments works best.

Orgasm Disorders

Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries and some prescriptions can interfere block or cause delayed orgasm. As with many of the above situations, managing the underlying physical problem can helps, as can adjusting medications and trying alternative methods of sexual stimulation and arousal.

Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness is a common issue seen in sex therapy in Charlotte. Menopause, hormonal imbalances and medications can cause it, making penetration painful. My clients have had success with lubricants, moisturizers, hormone therapy and vaginal estrogen preparations.

Premature Ejaculation (PE)

PE is consistently ejaculating before you want to during sexual activity. It can be caused by psychological factors, underlying medical conditions or medication side effects. Behavioral techniques are very effective (your sex therapist can explain). Counseling to address performance anxiety and improve control are two other treatments that work.

Fertility-Related Sexual Dysfunction

The challenges of infertility and assisted reproductive technologies can play havoc on sexual function and intimacy. Emotional stress, timing constraints or medical interventions can all contribute (sex on demand; how fun!). Anyone going through infertility should practice self-care with counseling, a support group or couples therapy to address the emotional and relational roller-coaster of infertility.

Cancer and Cancer Treatment-Related Dysfunction

Cancer surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapies can all affect your sexual desire and function. These treatments may cause changes in

  1. libido,
  2. erectile function,
  3. vaginal lubrication or
  4. the ability to orgasm.

There are specialized programs focused on cancer survivorship and sexual wellness, which I recommend. Medications, hormone therapy and counseling can also benefit couples dealing with cancer.

Talking to your partner and health care provider(s) can make it easier to face these issues. Treatments depend on the exact medical condition and sexual dysfunction you are experiencing.

There are emotional and relational aspects to virtually all sexual dysfunctions. That is why professional psychological help — often in tandem with other interventions — can be invaluable.