University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - McKinley Health Center logo

Female Sexual Function/Dysfunction

There are several stages that outline the body’s response to sexual stimulation. These stages are fluid, and very individual. It is now known that women do not necessarily progress through sexual functioning in a linear sense, but experience overlapping phases of sexual response that blends the responses of both the mind and the body.

Stage One – Motivation, Excitement

Stage Two – Plateau

Stage Three – Orgasm

State Four – Resolution

Sexual dysfunction refers to some problem a person may be experiencing in their sexual lives or relationship. Sexual dysfunction may have physiological or psychological causes or a combination of both the physiological and psychological. For women, factors such as their emotional relationship with their partner and their overall mental well-being affect sexual satisfaction or distress. For example, depression is highly associated with sexual dysfunction. Sometimes treating the underlying emotional concerns can increase sexual satisfaction.

Primary Sexual Dysfunction: Never having been able to achieve a particular function.
Secondary Sexual Dysfunction: Having been able to achieve a particular function previously, but cannot now. Between 25-63% of women at some point in their lives may experience a problem with sexual functioning. One study in the Journal of American Medical Association (1999) found sexual dysfunction common in 43% of women age 18 to 59.
Vaginismus: The muscles around the outer third of the vagina have involuntary spasms when penetration attempts are made. As many as 20% or one in five women have or will experience vaginismus.
Anorgasmia: Otherwise known as Orgasmic Dysfunction and is the inability to achieve orgasm. One in four women at some point in their lives may experience anorgasmia with 25-35% lifetime prevalence.
Dyspareunia: Painful intercourse, which can occur at anytime during or after intercourse.
Hypoactive Sexual Desire: Lost of interest and pleasure in what were formerly arousing sexual stimuli. Roughly 22% of women at some point in their lives have low sexual desire; 14% of women report problems with arousal.
Sexual Aversion: Avoidance of or exaggerated fears toward sexual expression.
Sexual Arousal Disorder: Inability of a woman to complete sexual activity with adequate lubrication.

Sexual functions are treatable. The first step is to rule out any physical causes that may be affecting the problem. Education, information and counseling are often very effective in relieving sexual problems. If you have questions about any of these conditions, talk with your health care provider or schedule an appointment with a Sexual Health Educator at 333-2714.

Basson, R. (2005). “Women’s sexual dysfunction: revised and expanded definitions.” Vol. 172, 10.
JAMA Patient Page (1999). “Silence about sexual problems can hurt relationships.” Vol. 281, 6, 584.
Kelly, G.F. (1994). Sexuality Today. Guilford, CN: Dushkin Publishing Group.
Masters, W.H., Johnson, V.E., & Kolodny, R.C. (1997). Human Sexuality. New York: Addison-Wesley.

If you are a registered University of Illinois student and you have questions or concerns,
or need to make an appointment, please call: Dial-A-Nurse at 333-2700


If you are concerned about any difference in your treatment plan and the information in this handout,

you are advised to contact your health care provider.


Visit the McKinley Health Center Web site at:

HEd. III-195

© The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, 2007.



<< return to health information index