Women are supposed to have it all: an impressive, high-power career, tidy and polite children, a spotless home and a completely satisfied husband. Plus a fantastic sexual relationship! No issues or problems, always ready to give 100%. 

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Dream on!

Back here in the real world, it’s not an exaggeration to say that every woman will have some sort of sexual dysfunction at some point in their life. No one can honestly say they have a flawless sexual scorecard.  

Because intimacy is a very personal and private subject for most people, we tend to zip our lips and not discuss even the good parts, let alone the dysfunctions. A woman experiencing a very common issue can feel alone and helpless.

Fortunately, you don’t have to climb this mountain by yourself. There is so much help and support out there and it starts now.

First, it’s important to know that sexual problems can have many different causes, ranging from changes in hormones, to side effects of medication, to deep-seated relationship issues. Sometimes problems can arise from previous abuse, or incorrect ideas taken to heart. 

However, whatever the cause, there is a solution. The answer is within reach, and you have a built-in support system in the form of your spouse. With the two of you working as a patient, loving, intimate team, you can overcome your obstacles together. 

Dr Jessica McCleese, a sex therapist who has built a career on helping women overcome sexual and relationship issues, is tough to surprise. Based on her experience helping women become more sexually fulfilled, she’s identified three common areas of dysfunction.

  • Lack of sexual desire
  • Inability to get aroused
  • Vaginismus and dyspareunia

Fortunately, with each problem, she was able to suggest solutions, all of which she has used in her practice. 

Lack of Sexual Desire

The problem: 

Many, many women find themselves wanting to have sex less, especially over time. Physical intimacy gets pushed lower and lower on the list of things to do, until finally it just falls through the cracks. Sometimes there are so many other things that have to get done (at work, with children, around the house) that there’s nothing left at the end of the day to check one more box off the list. 

Seeing her sex drive head for the hills can have a huge impact on a woman’s self worth, as she’s likely to blame herself and assume that she isn’t a good spouse. You can see the vicious cycle, right? A decrease in desire means less sex (or less enjoyable sex), which leads to lower self esteem, which leads to less desire to have sex. 

Over time, limited sexual contact will also take a toll on a couple’s relationship, leading to blaming, resentment, or hurt feelings on one or both sides. 

The hard part of it all is that it’s not that your husband isn’t a great guy! And it’s not even that the sex, when it happens, isn’t good. There’s something more going on. 

The fix: 

A multi-layered problem requires a multi-layered solution. In this instance, it’s crucial to look at the whole woman, rather than just one small part. Keep in mind that sometimes feeling better requires multiple fixes. Don’t get discouraged if the first thing you try isn’t the answer. 

-Are you a tired mama, with lots of demands put on you by your children? It’s really hard to be a seductive goddess when you’re falling asleep the moment your head hits the pillow. One of those things that’s easy to say, but harder to do–take a break! Let someone come over and take the kids for an afternoon so you can rest. Go somewhere just by yourself (and make it not the grocery store, please). Remember how good that feels?

-Does the decrease in desire correspond to a decrease in connection to a spouse? Have there just not been as many opportunities to remember why you got together in the first place? If a couple’s connection starts to get a little stale, there is often a decrease in sexual desire. Women can have an especially hard time, since we tend to correlate sexual attraction with romantic love. This is where a good heart-to-heart conversation with your spouse would be a great way to work together as an intimate team to make specific plans to reconnect.

-Have you noticed other changes to your physical self (hair loss, dry, cracked skin, insomnia, depression)? Is it time for the checkup you’ve been putting off? Talk to your provider and tell them what’s going on. They’ll likely want to run some blood tests or a hormone panel. Based on your results, work with them to create a plan. Success may include medication, or it may not. The important thing is that you know what you’re tackling. 

-Are you struggling with a sense of shame or guilt about your sexual desires? Nothing zaps your mojo more than an idea breathing down your neck, telling you that you’re dirty and worthless and bad if you choose to enjoy sex. These thoughts can come from completely innocent sources, like an upbringing that over-emphasized chastity and abstinence to the point of suppressing natural sexual development within oneself. It can be a challenge to overcome all those years of teaching and emphasis with one quick little wedding ceremony. 

-Past sexual abuse is also a hurdle. Please don’t waste time feeling guilty and broken. If this applies to you, seek out a trusted, professional counselor. You don’t need to spend one more minute in the dark repercussions of abuse. The best way to stick it to your past abuser is to own your sexuality, as a way of taking back something that was wrongfully taken from you.

Can’t Get Aroused

The Problem:

So, here it is. There’s finally the perfect moment to have sex. The stars have aligned and things couldn’t be more perfect.

Except that, try as you might, you just can’t become aroused. You can’t make your body respond like it used to, and it’s frustrating and embarrassing and awkward.

We’re not talking about one or two crummy nights, either. (Because everyone has them, remember?) If this becomes a pattern, it’s time to get help. 

The Fix:

There’s a lot of good information under the fix for Decreased Sexual Desire, since a decreasing desire and arousal problems are cousins. So go read that one again. Make sure you’ve addressed any irritations or problems you have with your spouse, and that you’ve seen a health care professional recently. 

There’s two entries on this fix that don’t occur under the previous fix: foreplay and foresight.

Foreplay is one of those things that’s so very easily overlooked, it almost seems silly to mention it. Of course it’s important, but if you’re a person living in the real world, you don’t always have time!

When was the last time you really gave foreplay a try, making it a main dish instead of a hasty appetizer? As strange as it sounds, try not having sex. Just focus on the warm up, and focus on things that feel good to you. Once you and your spouse can (patiently and lovingly) figure out what works best to get things going, then you can GO!

Foresight is an unexpected entry on this list. Why on earth would this be a solution to a sexual problem?

If you’re worrying that you’re going to have someone walk through the door at any moment, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to relax enough to become aroused. If you can’t ignore the dog barking at the back door wanting to be let out, it’s tough to be thinking sexy thoughts. If you consistently have to work late and are tired and stressed out when you get home, guess who isn’t really going to be in the mood?

A little bit of foresight goes a long way. Come up with some of your obstacles and work on ways you and your spouse can work on them together. 

Vaginismus and dyspareunia 

The problem:

Vaginismus is a word that describes a condition where the vaginal muscles, often as a result of stress, will form a barrier against any foreign, intruding objects. The offending object could be a tampon, gynecological equipment, sex toys or a penis. 

This condition is often the result of abuse, and is a natural defense mechanism that the female body uses to stop unwanted entry. Sexual abuse isn’t the only reason behind it; anxiety and expectation can be just as harmful. 

The frustrating thing with vaginismus is that once the response is triggered, the body will respond by shutting down at random and inconvenient times. 

If you’ve ever had painful sex, you’re familiar with dyspareunia. This is not about the odd, occasional ouch-moment. (Reasonable explanations for pain during sex are things like insufficent lubrication, weird angles or graceless movements. These aren’t fun but they happen.)

Dyspareunia can be caused by pelvic injury, childbirth or trauma. Symptoms can include dull or sharp pain and it can begin during sex and linger afterwards. 

The Fix:

If you’re having these problems, it’s time to see a professional. 

Start by going to a gynecologist that you trust. See if you could benefit from a device called a dilator, which is much less intimidating than it sounds. A dilator helps your vagina adjust to having something inserted, starting out the size of your pinky finger and increasing as needed. 

From there, you could visit a pelvic floor specialist, who can tailor a physical therapy approach that is specific to your needs. Pelvic floor specialists help women with exercises and stretches to restore the muscles between your legs, hip, and pubic area and help them get back into shape. Schedule an appointment and have them give you suggestions on take-home exercises and stretches. 

Finally, and most importantly, find a therapist who can work with you if you’re experiencing anxiety or reliving past traumatic events. There’s no reason to carry such heavy burdens alone. 

When it comes to discussing sexual problems, the conversation (if there is one at all), goes bad very quickly. If there are accusations, blaming, avoidance or guilt, it’s time to take a step back and realize that any sexual dysfunction, no matter what kind, is a couples’ problem. Burdens that seem daunting and heavy when faced alone, can become relationship-building opportunities when shouldered as a team.