Long considered a taboo subject, women's sexuality is now openly discussed and portrayed on TV, in magazines, and on the internet. Most importantly, women themselves are becoming increasingly aware of their sexuality and their sexual health. Women of all ages are learning more about their sexuality.
What is "sexuality"? For a woman, as for a man, sexuality encompasses a very broad range of physical activities and psychological experiences. These activities fulfill an important physical and emotional need for closeness and intimacy. Sexuality doesn't include just your sexual practices. Your feelings about yourself, how you relate to others, and about sex and previous sexual experiences are part of your sexual makeup. Your feelings about your partner and your relationship definitely affect your sexual satisfaction.
Women's interest in sex and responses to sexual stimulation vary widely. Although most women's sexual responsiveness peaks in the late 30s and early 40s, a woman can have satisfying sexual experiences throughout her life. The quality of her experiences is affected by individual differences, by life situation, by age and hormonal levels, and by overall health and well-being.
A sexual problem is anything that interferes with a woman's satisfaction with a sexual activity. When this happens, it is often referred to by health professionals as Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD).
According to a groundbreaking article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1999, sexual problems are common in women and men, but especially in women. In a survey of men and women aged 18-59 years, about 43% of women and 31% of men reported some sexual problem.
To understand why sexual problems occur, it is important to understand the sexual response cycle. This cycle is the same in both men and women, although at different rates and, obviously, with different physical changes. The cycle has 4 steps.
Desire (excitement phase) - Desire is a sexual "charge" that increases interest in and responsiveness to sexual activity. You feel "in the mood." Your heartbeat and breathing quicken, and your skin becomes reddened (flushes).
Arousal (plateau phase) - Sexual stimulation--touch, vision, hearing, taste, smell, or imagination--brings about further physical changes. Fluids are secreted within the vagina, moistening the vagina, labia, and vulva. These fluids provide lubrication for intercourse. The vagina expands, and the clitoris enlarges. The nipples become hardened or erect.
Orgasm (climax) - At the peak of arousal, the muscles surrounding the vagina contract rhythmically, causing a pleasurable sensation. This is often referred to as the sexual climax.
Resolution - The vagina, clitoris, and surrounding areas return to their unaroused states. You feel content, relaxed, possibly sleepy.
Every woman progresses through the cycle at her own rate, which is normal for her. A sexual problem may occur if any of these stages does not occur.