Let’s face it, talking about sex is hard, it is layered with discomfort, from the moment we first encounter it. Society has taught us to see it, experience it, think about it in certain “normative” ways from a young age to when we are fully sexual beings, and the truth is, that there is no “normal” way. Sex is intensely personal and yet we are constantly bombarded with mixed messages about how to think about it, engage in it and have feelings about it. All of these things occur even when there aren’t other hurdles to deal with, and there are always some hurdles in life, no matter what.
So, talking about struggles with sex… well that can feel impossible, it can feel isolating, and lonely to discuss, with anyone. When thinking, or experiencing struggles there are pangs of shame, fear of judgment, anxiety and worry. How we view ourselves is put on the line, our self-esteem, feelings of being defective. These aren’t isolative, but the feelings of being alone are.
Where do we go? What do we do?
Sex is a part of human nature, your libido is part of who you are, and just like other aspects of yourself it is different for each of us. Breaking down the stigma around talking about our sexual life and journey, I feel is important, I don’t mean that you don’t have the right to be private about it, but to judge others who aren’t that can improve communication as a whole. We can start to tackle these topics with grace, respect and together.
Let’s look at some statistics that’ll help understand how NOT alone you maybe. In fact, sexual dysfunctions ( a word that feels inappropriate for this topic, and which adds to the stigmatizations of sexual health) are highly prevalent. Overall SD affects about 43% of women and 31% of men in the United States. What does that mean exactly? As struggles can be very specific, there are many sub-topics and difficulties that are being faced in silence. Some of the more prevalent struggles are as follows.
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, in other words a Low Libido, a lack of motivation for sexual activity, a disinterest in sexual fantasies or desires and a chemical imbalance in the brain that cause for an inhibited sexual response. When looking at statistics in the United states.
Sexual arousal disorders, including erectile dysfunction, in men and female sexual arousal disorder in women, are found in 10% to 20% of men and women. Again, I want to emphasize the normality in dealing with these struggles in silence can often make the situation worse. Often our embarrassment and shame can paralyze us into thinking that the pain and discomfort is normal and something we should deal with. This is NOT true, sex should NOT be painful.
There are many different sexual arousal disorders for women, for example, pain in the pelvic muscles can cause pain in being aroused even before any physical sexual activity. Many times women experience pain before, during and even after sex due to pelvic trauma, pelvic flooring problems and even past trauma’s e.i. childbirth, personal trauma, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, large fibroids or ovarian cysts, and pelvic surgery.
These disorders include:
Dyspareunia which is pain during intercourse. This is a persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during or after intercourse, or outercourse.
Vaginismus This is a condition where the muscles of the vagina tighten to the point of closing, so penetration and intercourse are impossible. This can be related to internal stress, anxiety, past trauma, or a even just a natural biological response to certain stimuli.
Vulvodynia is when someone has chronic pain around the opening of the vagina and clitoris.
For men struggling with erectile dysfunction can be difficult to address. Many times there is a internalized pressure to perform, stress and fear of failure. Similarly, to women, there are biological connections to arousal and at times a disconnect. Orgasmic disorders are relatively common in men and women, affecting women about 10% to 15% in community-based studies. With men, approximately 30% of men complained about premature ejaculation and about 15% complained of delayed ejaculation. Problems of delayed ejaculation tend to be hard to discuss and addressed. This struggle is often connected to fears of infertility, and feelings of defectiveness.
How do we address some of these struggles and where do individuals go to seek help? First and foremost finding the right kind of support is key. Individuals should seek out supportive and positive Obgyns, Urologists and Therapists to work together with. Additionally, having a positive support system can be an added benefit. Sexual health is an important part of an individual’s identity and it is layered with emotions and self-evaluations. Compassion and understanding for ourselves and our journeys is important to take steps to grow and feel empowered.