What Is Female Sexual Arousal Disorder?

Female arousal disorder

Verywell / Laura Porter

What Is Female Sexual Arousal Disorder?

While many women may often find that they are not aroused by sexual activity 100% of the time, sexual arousal disorder points to a more severe lack of arousal.

Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

Female sexual arousal disorder (sometimes called sexual interest disorder) is when a woman has no or a significantly reduced interest in sex. As a result, it becomes extremely difficult to respond to sexual stimulation.

Female sexual arousal disorder affects different people to varying degrees, and it can also happen due to a variety of factors. These factors include medications, age, negative experiences, chronic illness, and even natural hormone fluctuations.

If you feel like you haven't heard much about this, you would be correct. This topic it hasn't been studied for that long.

In The Handbook of Sexual Dysfunction, the authors note that a lot of research is being done on female sexual arousal disorder in the present day, mainly because female sexual issues have been swept to the side throughout history. However, this book also notes that research has been slower in this area because many cultures and religions see it as taboo, especially for women, to talk about sex and sexuality.

Below, we'll walk through how to recognize the symptoms so that you can better understand when it's time to seek help. We'll also talk about how it's diagnosed, the different ways it's treated, and even the best ways of coping with this disorder in your day-to-day life.

Signs and Symptoms of Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

Below are three categories of arousal. They are based on clinical studies, and professionals use them to determine if someone has female sexual arousal disorder:

  1. Subjective: This is when women don't feel aroused, even after genital or non-genital stimulation. In this category, there is a physical genital response; however, there is no mental arousal.
  2. Genital: This category, despite its name, means that someone cannot become aroused due to physical genital stimulation. Instead, arousal occurs in response to non-genital stimulation, like watching a video. This is most common for women who've gone through menopause and is typically due to decreased genital sensitivity.
  3. Combined: Neither mental nor physical stimulation results in arousal when both of the above categories are present.

Diagnosing Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

According to doctors, you need to seek medical attention if you are experiencing an absence or severe decrease in more than three of the items below:

  • Interest in sexual activity
  • Sexual or erotic fantasies or thoughts
  • Initiation of sexual activity and responsiveness to a partner's initiation
  • Excitement or pleasure during ≥ 75% of sexual activity
  • Interest or arousal in response to sexual internal or external erotic stimuli (e.g., written, verbal, visual)
  • Genital or nongenital sensations during ≥ 75% of sexual activity

What Causes Female Sexual Arousal Disorder?

Medical research has shown that sexual arousal disorder can often be due to changes in hormones. This is especially important to remember if you are pregnant, postpartum, going through or nearing menopause, or currently on or near your period.

Other physical factors can include changes in sex hormone levels, which often occur as we age. In addition, certain prescription drugs can contribute to sexual arousal disorder. For example, beta-blockers or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) antidepressants can commonly cause sexual side effects.

Chronic diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis can cause damage to autonomic or somatic nerves. This can result in a loss or decrease in sensation around the genitals.

Sexual arousal disorder can also be caused by psychological factors like depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem, or a negative body image. In addition, past negative or unrewarding sexual experiences can also cause it.

In all of these cases, communication with your sexual partners is super important, and a lack can actually contribute to sexual arousal disorder.

Treatment for Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

Doctors have found that a combination of treatments works best when helping someone with sexual arousal disorder. The three most common types of treatment are:

  • Education: Familiarize yourself with your body and its functions. This may also focus on non-genital stimulation, like the importance of building trust with your partner.
  • Psychologic therapies: This is where psychotherapies (also known as talk therapy) such as cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as talk therapy) comes in. It's important to recognize harmful patterns of thinking that may be making it more difficult to experience arousal. A sex therapist who could work with you and your partner would also be beneficial here.
  • Hormonal therapy: Treatment for female sexual arousal disorder often benefits from addressing underlying medical issues or hormonal changes. Sometimes people have low estrogen or testosterone levels, which can contribute to a decrease in arousal and even desire for sex.

It is also important to note that if you are feeling pain during intercourse, you need to see a gynecologist for an evaluation.

Coping With Sexual Arousal Disorder

While there are therapies, medicines, and educational routes that you can take to treatment, it's also super important to establish and maintain an open line of communication with your partner. A healthy, understanding relationship will be a major factor in working through sexual experiences.

Research has found that the motivation to please a partner has increased positive outcomes for sexual encounters. This is another reason why it might be helpful to seek out a sex therapist that works with you and your partner to establish and reach common goals.

If you're looking for a sex therapist that can work with you on an individual level, or for someone who can work with you and your partner, make sure you check the databases of therapists available at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) and the American College of Sexologists.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with female sexual arousal disorder can be discouraging and seemingly hopeless at times, but please keep working with doctors and therapists until you find a treatment plan that works for you. Always make sure to advocate for your own happiness, and make sure that your partner wants to advocate for your happiness as well.

While using a combination of therapy, medication, and education-based treatments may sound daunting, try to remember that your happiness and contentment are worth it.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Laan E, Everaerd W. Female Sexual Arousal DisorderHandbook of Sexual Dysfunction.:124-125.

  2. Conn A, Hodges KR. Sexual Interest/Arousal DisorderMerck Manual Gynecology and Obstetrics.

  3. Amanda Bockaj, Natalie O. Rosen & Amy Muise (2019) Sexual Motivation in Couples Coping with Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder: A Comparison with Control Couples, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 45:8, 796-808, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2019.1623356

By Brittany Loggins
Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines.