Sexual dysfunction or sexual malfunction (see also sexual function) is difficulty during any stage of the sexual act (which includes desire, arousal, orgasm, and resolution) that prevents the individual or couple from enjoying sexual activity.
Physical factors include drugs (alcohol, nicotine, narcotics, stimulants, antihypertensives, antihistamines, and some psychotherapeutic drugs); injuries to the back, problems with an enlarged prostate gland, problems with blood supply, nerve damage (as in spinal cord injuries); or disease (diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, tumors, and, rarely, tertiary syphilis); failure of various organ systems (such as the heart and lungs); endocrine disorders (thyroid, pituitary, or adrenal gland problems); hormonal deficiencies (low testosterone, estrogen, or androgens); and some birth defects.
Sexual dysfunction disorders are generally classified into four categories: sexual desire disorders, sexual arousal disorders, orgasm disorders, and sexual pain disorders.
Poor lubrication may result from insufficient excitement and stimulation, or from hormonal changes caused by menopause, pregnancy, or breast-feeding. Irritation from contraceptive creams and foams can also cause dryness, as can fear and anxiety about sex.
It is unclear exactly what causes vaginismus, but it is thought that past sexual trauma (such as rape or abuse) may play a role. Another female sexual pain disorder is called vulvodynia or vulvar vestibulitis. In this condition, women experience burning pain during sex which seems to be related to problems with the skin in the vulvar and vaginal areas. The cause is unknown.
Sexual dysfunctions are more common in the early adult years, with the majority of people seeking care for such conditions during their late twenties through thirties. The incidence increases again in the geriatric population, typically with gradual onset of symptoms that are associated most commonly with medical causes of sexual dysfunction.
Sexual dysfunction is more common in people who abuse alcohol and drugs. It is also more likely in people suffering from diabetes and degenerative neurological disorders. Ongoing psychological problems, difficulty maintaining relationships or chronic disharmony with the current sexual partner can also interfere with sexual function.
The earliest attempts at treating sexual dysfunctions, especially erectile dysfunction, date back to Muslim physicians and pharmacists in the medieval Islamic world. They were the first to prescribe medication for the treatment of this problem, and they developed several methods of therapy for this issue, including a single-drug therapy method where a drug was prescribed and a "combination method of either a drug or food." Most of these drugs were oral medication, though a few patients were also treated through topical and transurethral means. Sexual dysfunctions were being treated with clinically tested drugs in the Islamic world since the 9th century until the 16th century by a number of Muslim physicians and pharmacists, including Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi, Thabit bin Qurra, Ibn Al-Jazzar, Avicenna (The Canon of Medicine), Averroes, Ibn al-Baitar, and Ibn al-Nafis (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine).
In modern times, the genuine clinical study of sexual problems is usually dated back no further than 1970 when Masters and Johnson's Human Sexual Inadequacy was published. It was the result of over a decade of work at the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation in St. Louis, involving 790 cases. The work grew from Masters and Johnson's earlier Human Sexual Response (1966).
Prior to Masters and Johnson the clinical approach to sexual problems was largely derived from the thinking of Freud. It was held with psychopathology and approached with a certain pessimism regarding the chance of help or improvement. Sexual problems were merely symptoms of a deeper malaise and the diagnostic approach was from the psychopathological. There was little distinction between difficulties in function and variations nor between perversion and problems. Despite work by psychotherapists such as Balint sexual difficulties were crudely split into frigidity or impotence, terms which too soon acquired negative connotations in popular culture.
The achievement of Human Sexual Inadequacy was to move thinking from psychopathology to learning, only if a problem did not respond to educative treatment would psychopathological problems be considered. Also treatment was directed at couples, whereas before partners would be seen individually. Masters and Johnson saw that sex was a joint act. They believed that sexual communication was the key issue to sexual problems not the specifics of an individual problem. They also proposed co-therapy, a matching pair of therapists to the clients, arguing that a lone male therapist could not fully comprehend female difficulties and vice versa.
The basic Masters and Johnson treatment program was an intensive two week program to develop efficient sexual communication. Couple-based and therapist led the program began with discussion and then sensate focus between the couple to develop shared experiences. From the experiences specific difficulties could be determined and approached with a specific therapy. In a limited number of male only cases (41) Masters and Johnson had developed the use of a female surrogate, an approach they soon abandoned over the ethical, legal and other problems it raised.
In defining the range of sexual problems Masters and Johnson defined a boundary between dysfunction and deviations. Dysfunctions were transitory and experienced by the majority of people, dysfunctions bounded male primary or secondary impotence, premature ejaculation, ejaculatory incompetence; female primary orgasmic dysfunction and situational orgasmic dysfunction; pain during intercourse (dyspareunia) and vaginismus. According to Masters and Johnson sexual arousal and climax are a normal physiological process of every functionally intact adult, but despite being autonomic it can be inhibited. Masters and Johnson treatment program for dysfunction was 81.1% successful.
Despite the work of Masters and Johnson the field in the US was quickly over-run by ethusiastic rather than systematic approaches, blurring the space between 'enrichment' and therapy. Although it has been argued that the impact of the work was such that it would be impossible to repeat such a clean experiment.