Disorders of Excitement: Definition, Causes & Treatment

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  • 0:05 Excitement Disorders
  • 1:30 Erectile Disoder
  • 3:50 Female Sexual Arousal Disorder
  • 6:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Sex is a normal part of adult life, but what happens when someone is not able to be physically aroused? In this lesson, we'll look closer at different types of excitement disorders, as well as their causes and treatments.

Excitement Disorders

Maggie and Richard have fallen in love, and they want to take the next step and make their relationship more physical. There's just one problem: Richard isn't able to have sex with Maggie because he can't sustain an erection. Richard feels stressed and embarrassed, which only makes the problem worse. Meanwhile, Maggie feels like maybe it's her fault, because she's not as thin as Richard's last girlfriend. But the truth is, Richard might be suffering from a psychological disorder known as male erectile disorder, also commonly called erectile dysfunction, and there are many causes for this condition.

Men aren't the only ones that sometimes have issues with sex. Sexual dysfunction is a term used by psychologists to describe a number of disorders that keep people from enjoying sex. There are many types of sexual dysfunctions. When someone is unable to stay aroused long enough to participate in sex, it is called an excitement disorder or arousal disorder.

In centuries past, excitement disorders were called frigidity in women and impotence in men. But in the second part of the 20th century, psychologists decided that those terms were too judgmental, so they changed them to male erectile disorder and female sexual arousal disorder. Let's look a little closer at both of the excitement disorders, their causes and their treatments.

Erectile Disorder

Imagine that you are a psychologist and Richard and Maggie come to see you about Richard's problem. In order to diagnose Richard with male erectile disorder, he has to fulfill several criteria:

  1. Not having an erection has to be more than a one-time deal. His inability to participate in normal sexual activities has to be persistent or recurrent, meaning that it has to happen over a long period of time or on a regular basis. Richard has been having this problem for several weeks, so you can check this one off.
  2. It has to cause personal distress. Obviously, both Richard and Maggie are upset about his issue, so you can check this one off, as well.
  3. There's not another reason that's solely responsible. Though both physical and psychological issues can lead to erectile disorder, in order for a psychologist to classify it as erectile disorder, it has to be at least partly due to psychological issues, and it can't be part of another psychological problem like anxiety. When you talk to Richard, you are able to figure out that his problem is not due solely to a medical issue, and he doesn't have another psychological disorder that would account for it.

As we said, there are both physical and psychological issues that can cause male erectile dysfunction. For example, perhaps Richard has a problem with blood flow, which is a common physical issue that affects men's ability to sustain arousal. And when you talk to Richard, you discover that he's nervous about being with Maggie, because he thinks that he might let her down. Stress, depression, and anxiety are all common psychological issues that can cause male erectile dysfunction. In addition, sociocultural pressures, such as being part of a group that views sex as a shameful, negative thing, can cause Richard's problem.

Just as there are several causes, there are usually several courses of treatment. For the physical issues and some psychological issues, such as anxiety or depression, drugs are a common solution. In addition, therapy to address psychological and sociocultural factors is often an important part of treatment. Seeing Maggie and Richard together as well as Richard alone may help them communicate about the problem and help resolve any lingering issues.

Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

With men, excitement disorders are easy to spot. But women, too, can have issues becoming or staying aroused enough for sex. In women, not being able to be aroused or to sustain arousal is called female sexual arousal disorder.

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