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A sexual problem, or sexual dysfunction refers to any number of long term or recurring sex related issues that are preventing normal sexual intercourse. These issues can be related to mental (psychological) or physical problems.
This section has information on common sex problems and why they can happen as well as practical steps towards helping resolve them.


Do I have a problem?

Sexual desire and performance are very sensitive to what else is happening in our lives – our sexual response is not just a machine to be switched on and off. If we’re worried or distracted, tired or stressed, depressed or angry, it will be very hard for us to have and enjoy our normal sex life.

There is huge variation in what is “normal” in sex. There are no rules about how often you should have sex or how you should do it. So if you (and your partner) are happy with your sex life, you don’t have a problem. But if one or both of you is unhappy, dissatisfied or frustrated with your sex life, then it is a problem for you.

Sexual problems mostly fall into a few categories:

  • The most common problem to affect both men and women is loss of sexual interest.
  • The two most common problems for men are difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection (getting a “hard-on”) and premature ejaculation – climaxing and ejaculating too early.
  • The most common problem for women is pain during intercourse (known as dyspareunia).

If you and/or your partner are experiencing these problems, particularly if they continue for a long time, then it is worth doing something about it.

What causes sex problems?

Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of these problems. This is made more difficult because some problems that seem physical in nature can actually be mental in nature.

Our most important sex organ is between our ears. If our head’s not in the right place, sex is not going to work. We may experience problems with sexual desire (“I’m not interested in sex anymore”) and performance (“Things don’t work like they should”).

If you are worried or distracted, tired or stressed, depressed or angry, it will be very hard to have and enjoy sex. Pressure to “perform” – to be a great lover – can also create anxiety, making it difficult to become aroused.

Psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress are all likely to interfere with sexual desire and performance. Physical problems such as injuries, obesity and diabetes, as well as medications – especially those used to treat common psychological problems – can all reduce our sex drive and performance. The same is true when people drink too much alcohol.

Losing interest in sex, or wanting to have sex but being unable to perform, can be very distressing. It becomes a vicious cycle – when we have sexual difficulties, we worry about them, which makes those problems even worse. If we could just laugh at it (especially with our partner), or forget about having to “perform”, many of these problems may get better.

What can I do about it?

If you think you might have a sex problem and would like to try and get it under control, some of the strategies below might help. For some people, these strategies might be all that is needed. For others, they can be a useful addition to getting professional help.

Give yourself permission not to want sex all the time or to be the perfect lover

You are only human and you will have times of high sexual drive and times of low drive. There are times when you can throw yourself into it and enjoy sex, and times when the equipment just doesn’t want to work. If you can shrug your shoulders and not get distressed by it, the problems will often pass.

Communicate with your partner

When sex is not going well, our first reaction is to avoid the issue – don’t talk about it and come to bed late so you don’t have to confront it. But you’re going to manage this one far better if you can discuss it openly. Often, simply raising the issue is enough to take the pressure off. You may agree, for example, to forget about sex for the moment until other things are easier.

Educate yourself

The more you understand about the human sexual response, and yours in particular, the better you will be able to address any problems. Lots of good information is available on reputable medical websites, and there are plenty of good books around. 

Ban sex for a while

That might sound a little harsh, but putting a ban on intercourse for a few weeks is a great way to take the pressure off. It allows you to go back to basics, and to focus on what really matters underneath – things like intimacy, communication, and sharing enjoyable activities.

Take the time to have a romantic evening, share a bath or shower, give each other a massage, cuddle…do them all over the few weeks without having any sex. Then you can start to gradually introduce sex – still banning intercourse – but moving the massage to genital areas and perhaps taking your partner to a climax. This whole process is known as sensate focus. There are many good descriptions on the Internet and it is the basis of most sex therapy.

Get help

If your sexual problems are too severe or last too long, it’s a good idea to get some professional help – your local doctor is a great place to start. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but your doctor will have heard it many times before and the embarrassment quickly passes once you’ve plucked up the courage to mention it.

Your doctor can screen for any physical causes, and can provide advice or even medication to help overcome the problem. If you need one, there are many competent and experienced sex therapists around, but it is always best to get a referral or recommendation from your doctor, or a trusted friend.