Understanding Your Sexual Problem

Sexual disorders have been with us ever since there's been an "us." They've been studied and saddled with uninformative labels like "problems with nature," "impotence," and "frigidity." Today, sex experts diagnose and label these disorders by focusing on which part of the sexual response cycle seems to be out of whack. Is it a problem with desire, arousal, orgasm, or pain?

It's important to know more about the problem to help you and your doctor find the right treatment. Three pairs of descriptors are used that can help you untangle the problem:


  • Acquired vs. lifetime: Have you always had this problem or did it develop at a specific point in time?
  • Specific vs. generalized: Does the problem occur sometimes or all the time?
  • Acute vs. gradual onset. Did the problem appear suddenly or develop slowly over time?

The facts of when and how the problem began is very important because it tells the health care provider important information about what may be causing it. Trauma, infection, surgery, and similar conditions and events tend to be associated with rapid onset of sexual problems, whereas those arising because of aging, type 2 diabetes, or cardiovascular problems usually become manifest more slowly.

Is the problem is lifelong one or recently acquired? This is another very telling descriptor because someone with a lifetime sexual dysfunction is much more likely to be suffering from a chronic medical problem, or may have been raised in a constricting religious or cultural environment that may have shaped their sexual development. If the person was once able to function well sexually but later lost that capacity, it suggests a very different type of problem.

Finally, it's important to know whether the problem is generalized -- that is, it happens each and every time the individual attempts to be sexual, regardless of the partner or the environment -- or occurs only with a specific person (spouse), place (home), or time (late at night).

Much can be learned from this simple breakdown of the problem, which can go a long way toward identifying the cause and suggesting an effective treatment for the sexual problem.