Female Sexual Dysfunction (or FSD as it is commonly known) is often an umbrella term for what modern medicine calls sexual dysfunctions such as, low libido, low desire, painful intercourse, aversions to sex and difficulty with or absent orgasms. FSD can even be divided into several disorders including low sexual desire or sexual arousal disorder (desire is there, no arousal); orgasmic disorder; and sexual pain disorder.
What we do as clinicians is determine if the dysfunction is persistent or episodic, how much distress it's causing, and if other medical issues (disease, medications, substance use/abuse) are the problems. The DSM-IV (published by The American Psychiatric Association) provides a framework for diagnosis of Female Sexual Dysfunction, however, the labeling of sexuality as a dysfunction is part of the problem. This labeling may engender a harmful sort of shaming around sex and an idea that women need to be “fixed” because they are broken, when the patient lacks only understanding and healing of the heart, mind and body together.
The truth is that women can and do have active, healthy and satisfying sexual lives, but sometimes our bodies, minds and hearts need a little help to overcome bumps in the road.
Let’s discover the myths and truths about Female Sexual Dysfunction.
If you are concerned about your sexual functioning, consult your physician for a complete physical. This will give you a basic understanding of at least one aspect of the interwoven puzzle that is Female Sexual Dysfunction.
In this four-part blog series, I invite you to explore the realities of Female Sexual Dysfunction and develop a little bit of pro-activeness on behalf of your sexual self. We’ll learn about the myths of desire, understand where medical interventions can help and when the power to heal really starts with the woman in charge – you.
Possibly one of the most troubling issues with the group of symptoms called “Female Sexual Dysfunction” is that you might be willing to brush them off as “simply getting older” or “losing your interest.” Your friends might say that it is just what is happening through menopause or perimenopause and there is nothing to be done.
This might be one place where knowing yourself and having someone like me on your side could really change things. Many factors go into a healthy sexuality including the body’s health, side effects from trauma or medicines, emotional stress or change, as well as the heart’s desires.
Sexuality and physical health can be closely related through menopause and perimenopause, but there are a lot of different factors that go into a healthy sexuality. Modern medicine can be combined with yoga, acupuncture and herbal treatments to rebuild your overall health. Remember that your sexual health is important to your satisfaction and happiness as a whole person and not everyone functions exactly the same.
Next we’ll discover the myths and truths about what FSD really looks like!
During my training in Integrative Medicine, we had a full day of mindfulness activities — eating, walking, touching, listening, smelling — an experiential cultivation of the five senses. I had a meditation practice at the time, yet it never occurred to me that I might apply mindfulness to my senses. The experience of being mindful about how I perceive the world changed how I approached eating, walking, touching, listening and smelling. So when I think about the usefulness of slowing down, dropping into the senses and being present to sexual experiences, it only makes sense that teaching patients how to bring awareness to their senses is vital to cultivating sexual well-being.
Patients often complain about being in thinking mode during sex (i.e., the kids, house chores, work, etc). The person misses a lot of the pleasure and desire available to them by being present and aware of their body. Their thoughts and worries thwart healing sexual enjoyment.
Learning new skills works best if you start small, so I like to use the following eating exercise as a way to begin learning how to be aware and mindful of your body's sensations. Next time you sit down to eat, try the following exercise. (We will work into the sexual experience in a later blog but you can certainly try this out with the next touch you receive from your partner!)
First make sure you are sitting in front of your food and it is completely prepared. This is where you will prepare your mind to be still. Sitting up straight with your hands resting lightly in your lap, take a deep breath down to your belly and count to six. Slightly hold and exhale through your pursed lips to a count of six and then hold again at end of exhalation before grabbing onto the next breathe. Do this about five times.
With a mind of appreciation, place a bit of food in your mouth and very slowly taste into your food, very slowly chewing and being aware of the taste. Continue to bring conscious breath to the experience. If you catch your thinking going to work issues or other things, bring your attention back to the flavors, textures, and chewing experience of the food.
If you are able to get through your entire meal with this level of awareness – congrats you’re on your way to cultivating a mindful life of well-being! If you struggle with this, which is most of us, just keep up the work and bringing your mind back to the sensations you have with each bite. Over time, you will have a whole new appreciate for this incredible ability to eat food and a building skill for using your mindfulness to enjoy your body's amazing sensations.
Would you like to join me for a little story and some sexual healing?
My story is this: I am opening this space (in my first-ever blog) between the worlds of medicine, healing and sexuality to build knowledge and a place of hopeful growth. I blend techniques for the body, mind and heart to reach a true place of healing in my practice as a Nurse Practitioner and Sexual Therapist.
As a Family Nurse Practitioner for many years, I’ve watched as current treatments for diseases, disorders, and dysfunction failed to help my patients. Each patient I see isn’t simply a set of symptoms, but a whole person with a story to tell.
It seemed to me that the medical approach I worked within didn’t help patients to get “better.” So after years of professional frustration, I went back to school to find a way to cultivate a sense of well-being for my clients physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in the areas of health and sexuality. My education as a Nurse Practitioner, then becoming a Fellow of Integrative Medicine and finally in Sex Therapy guides my practice to evolving a treatment plan encompassing the complete person; body, mind and spirit.
One of the most attractive aspects of Integrative Medicine is the perspective of each patient as a dynamic energy body that needs support rather than being “fixed” or that something is “wrong.” Therefore, approaching the aging process from the view of a dynamic energy system, healing and well-being emerge.
As I began utilizing an Integrative approach with patients, I’ve witnessed transformations in their health and sexuality at much greater levels. Patients truly appreciated alternative treatments and even request it! Focusing on Integrative health and sexuality is a passion and calling that has brought me to a leading-edge practice and this new space for sharing!
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"Throughout my 40s, I sought help from different professionals for perimenopausal and relationship issues. In Sherri, I found a trusted guide to help me navigate the turbulent waters...."