Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) entails many facets in the sexual process in women including vaginal dryness, arousal disorder, painful intercourse, an inability to achieve orgasm, and lack of clitoral sensation.
Despite significant anatomical and embryological parallels between women and men, the multi-faceted nature of FSD clearly is different from that of the man. Clinicians can not approach female patients or their sexual function problems in the same fashion as in male patients. The context in which a woman experiences her sexuality is equally if not more important than the physiological outcome she experiences, and these issues should be determined before beginning medical therapy or determining treatment effectiveness.
Biothesiometry is a technique that can be used for evaluating genital neurological function in women. It entails the use of a small cylindrical instrument employed to evaluate the sensitivity of the clitoris and labia to pressure and temperature. However, there is insufficient evidnce regarding its clinical use for the diagnosis of FSD.
Erol et al (2003) evaluated genital and extra-genital somatic sensory system in diabetic women using biothesiometry and investigated the relation with sexual dysfunction. A total of 30 diabetic women and 20 normal sexually active women as a control group were evaluated with a detailed medical and sexual history including Index of Female Sexual Function (IFSF) questionnaire. Somatic sensory system of all women enrolled to the study was assessed by biothesiometry and threshold sensory values of 9 genital sites and 14 extra-genital sites were analyzed. The IFSF score in diabetic women was 23.6 while it was 38.3 in the control group (p < 0.0005). For each genital as well as extra-genital sites, the mean biothesiometric values were significantly higher in diabetics. The sensation of introitus vagina, labium minora and clitoris were found to be the most deteriorated genital sites in diabetic women. The difference between diabetic women with or without FSD was not significant for biothesiometric values. These findings indicate that, somatic sensory system is affected by diabetes however sexual dysfunction does not always manifest.
If a specific etiology for FSD is discovered on history, physical, and laboratory examination, the suspected etiology may be treated. If no specific etiology for FSD is discovered, basic treatment strategies are applied. These include educational interventions, enhancement of stimulation and elimination of routine (e.g., use of erotic books or videos, varying positions, use of vibrators, etc.), provision of distraction techniques (e.g., background music, encourage fantasies, etc.), encouragement of non-coital behaviors (e.g., sensate focus exercises, sensual massage), and techniques to minimize dyspareunia (e.g., change in position, topical lidocaine, lubricants, etc.).
Female erectile devices such as the Eros clitoral stimulation device (UroMetrics, Inc., St. Paul, MN) are used to obtain greater clitoral engorgement, which increases lubrication, and enhances the ability to achieve an orgasm. However, more studies are needed to ascertain the medical necessity and long-term effects of clitoral stimulation devices as compared with established approaches such as lubricants, manual stimulation, and over-the-counter devices.
In a pilot study, Schroder et al (2005) assessed the effectiveness of Eros therapy in alleviating sexual dysfunction in irradiated cervical cancer patients. A total of 15 women were enrolled and 13 completed the study. The median patient age and radiotherapy-enrollment interval was 43.5 years and 2 years, respectively. These investigators concluded that the clitoral stimulation device may alleviate sexual dysfunction in irradiated cervical cancer patients; and a randomized, controlled study is needed to evaluate the full benefits of this approach.
Silverstein et al (2011) stated that treatments of FSD have been largely unsuccessful because they do not address the psychological factors that underlie female sexuality. Negative self-evaluative processes interfere with the ability to attend and register physiological changes (interoceptive awareness). These researchers examined the effect of mindfulness meditation training on interoceptive awareness and the 3 categories of known barriers to healthy sexual functioning: attention, self-judgment, and clinical symptoms. A total of 44 college students (30 women) participated in either a 12-week course containing a "meditation laboratory" or an active control course with similar content or laboratory format. Interoceptive awareness was measured by reaction time in rating physiological response to sexual stimuli. Psychological barriers were assessed with self-reported measures of mindfulness and psychological well-being. Women who participated in the meditation training became significantly faster at registering their physiological responses (interoceptive awareness) to sexual stimuli compared with active controls (F(1,28) = 5.45, p = 0.03, η(p)(2) = 0.15). Female meditators also improved their scores on attention (t = 4.42, df = 11, p = 0.001), self-judgment, (t = 3.1, df = 11, p = 0.01), and symptoms of anxiety (t = -3.17, df = 11, p = 0.009) and depression (t = -2.13, df = 11, p < 0.05). Improvements in interoceptive awareness were correlated with improvements in the psychological barriers to healthy sexual functioning (r = -0.44 for attention, r = -0.42 for self-judgment, and r = 0.49 for anxiety; all p < 0.05). The authors concluded that mindfulness-based improvements in interoceptive awareness highlight the potential of mindfulness training as a treatment of FSD.