Sexual dysfunction can be a result of a physical or psychological problem.
Physical causes: Many physical and/or medical conditions can cause problems with sexual function. These conditions include diabetes, heart and vascular (blood vessel) disease, neurological disorders, hormonal imbalances, chronic diseases such as kidney or liver failure, and alcoholism and drug abuse. In addition, the side effects of certain medicines, including some antidepressant medication, can affect sexual desire and function.
Psychological causes: These include work-related stress and anxiety, concern about sexual performance, marital or relationship problems, depression, feelings of guilt, and the effects of a past sexual trauma.
Who is affected by sexual problems?
Both men and women are affected by sexual problems. Sexual problems occur in adults of all ages. Among those commonly affected are those in the older population, which may be related to a decline in health associated with ageing.
How do sexual problems affect men?
The most common sexual problems in men are ejaculation disorders, erectile dysfunction, and inhibited sexual desire.
What are ejaculation disorders?
There are different types of ejaculation disorders, including:
Premature ejaculation -- This refers to ejaculation that occurs before or soon after penetration.
Inhibited or retarded ejaculation -- This is when ejaculation is slow to occur.
Retrograde ejaculation -- This occurs when, at orgasm, the ejaculate is forced back into the bladder rather than through the urethra and out the end of the penis.
In some cases, premature and inhibited ejaculation are caused by a lack of attraction for a partner, past traumatic events and psychological factors, including a strict religious background that causes the person to view sex as sinful. Premature ejaculation is often is due to nervousness over how well a man will perform during sex. Certain medications, including some anti-depressants, may affect ejaculation, as can nerve damage to the spinal cord.
Retrograde ejaculation is common in males with diabetes who suffer from diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). This is due to problems with the nerves in the bladder and the bladder neck that allow the ejaculate to flow backwards and into the bladder. In other men, retrograde ejaculation occurs after operations on the bladder neck or prostate, or after certain abdominal operations. In addition, certain medicines, particularly those used to treat mood disorders, may cause problems with ejaculation. This does not generally require treatment unless it impairs fertility
What is erectile dysfunction?
Also known as impotence, erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to attain and/or maintain an erection suitable for intercourse. Causes of erectile dysfunction include diseases affecting blood flow, such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries); nerve disorders; psychological factors, such as stress, depression, and performance anxiety (nervousness over his ability to sexually perform); and injury to the penis. Chronic illness, certain medications, and a condition called Peyronie's disease (scar tissue in the penis) can also cause erectile dysfunction.
What is inhibited sexual desire?
Inhibited desire, or loss of libido, refers to a decrease in desire for, or interest in sexual activity. Reduced libido can result from physical or psychological factors. It has been associated with low levels of the hormone testosterone. It also may be caused by psychological problems, such as anxiety and depression; medical illnesses, such as diabetes and high blood pressure; certain medications, including some anti-depressants; and relationship difficulties.
How are male sexual problems diagnosed?
The doctor will most likely begin with a thorough history of symptoms. The doctor may arrange other tests to rule out any medical problems that may be contributing to the dysfunction. The doctor may refer you to other doctors, including a urologist (a doctor specialising in the urinary tract and male reproductive system), an endocrinologist (a doctor specialising in glandular disorders), a neurologist (a doctor specialising in disorders of the nervous system), sex therapists and other counsellors.
What tests are used to evaluate sexual problems?
Several tests can be used to evaluate the causes and extent of sexual problems. They include:
Blood tests -- These tests are done to evaluate hormone levels and identify other possible underlying medical problems.
Vascular assessment -- This involves an evaluation of the blood flow to the penis. A blockage in a blood vessel supplying blood to the penis may be contributing to erectile dysfunction.
Sensory testing -- Particularly useful in evaluating the effects of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), sensory testing measures the strength of nerve impulses in a particular area of the body.
Nocturnal penile tumescence and rigidity testing -- This test is used to monitor erections that occur naturally during sleep. This test can help determine if a man's erectile problems are due to physical or psychological causes.
How is male sexual dysfunction treated?
Many cases of sexual dysfunction can be corrected by treating the underlying physical or psychological problems. Treatment strategies may include the following:
Medical treatment -- This involves treatment of any physical problem that may be contributing to a man's sexual dysfunction.
Medication -- Medicines may help improve sexual function in men by increasing blood flow to the penis. Drug-containing penile injections, urethral pellets, and cream may also be used.
Hormones -- Men with low levels of testosterone may benefit from hormone supplementation (testosterone replacement therapy).
Psychological therapy -- Therapy with a trained counsellor can help a person address feelings of anxiety, fear or guilt that may have an impact on sexual function.
Mechanical aids -- Aids such as vacuum devices and penile implants may help men with erectile dysfunction.
Education and communication -- Education about sex and sexual behaviours and responses may help a man overcome his anxieties about sexual performance. Open dialogue with your partner about your needs and concerns also helps to overcome many barriers to a healthy sex life.
He success of treatment for sexual dysfunction depends on the underlying cause of the problem. The outlook is good for dysfunction that is related to a treatable or reversible physical condition. Mild dysfunction that is related to stress, fear, or anxiety often can be successfully treated with counselling, education, and improved communication between partners.
Can sexual problems be prevented?
While sexual problems cannot always be prevented, dealing with the underlying causes of the dysfunction can help you better understand and cope with the problem when it occurs. There are some things you can do to help maintain good sexual function:
Follow your doctor's treatment plan for any medical/health conditions.
Limit your alcohol intake.
Deal with any problems with drug abuse - drugs such as cocaine can be responsible.
Deal with any emotional or psychological issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety. Get treatment as needed.
Increase communication with your partner.