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What Is a Sexual Dysfunction? - Definition, Phases & Types

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  • 0:07 Sexual Dysfunction
  • 0:57 Phases of Sexual Activity
  • 2:55 Types of Dysfunction
  • 4:25 Causes & Cultural Factors
  • 6:09 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.

What happens when an otherwise healthy adult can't enjoy sex? In this lesson, we'll look at the four phases of sexual activity and sexual dysfunctions that can occur in each phase. In addition, we'll look at some common causes of sexual dysfunction.

Sexual Dysfunction

Gina and Jim are in love. They have been together for several years, and they recently got married. As with most couples, they want to express their love physically. But there's a problem: Jim just doesn't feel attracted to Gina. And it's not just her; Jim's never really been all that interested in sex with anyone.

Sex is a normal and healthy part of adult life. However, as with Jim, some people are not able to enjoy that part of life due to a psychological or physical problem. Sexual dysfunction simply refers to any issue that a couple or an individual experiences that keeps them from enjoying or participating in normal sexual activity. Let's look a little closer at sexual dysfunction, including the phases of sexual activity during which sexual dysfunction can occur and some common types of sexual dysfunction.

Phases of Sexual Activity

There are four main phases of sexual activity. A healthy adult can go through all of these phases, though they might only go through one or two at a time. However, sexual dysfunction can occur in any of the phases. The four phases are:

  1. Desire - This is the phase during which a person thinks or fantasizes about sex. When Gina sees a movie with George Clooney, she immediately goes into desire mode!
  2. Excitement - After desire, a person's body begins to go through certain changes in preparation for sex. The heart might race, breathing becomes shallow and a person feels warm. Essentially, desire is in the mind, and excitement is the expression of desire in the body.
  3. Orgasm - Once excitement leads to sexual activity, that activity culminates in a release of sexual tension known as an orgasm.
  4. Resolution - After orgasm, the body relaxes and the brain is flooded with 'feel-good' chemicals. This feeling of relaxation and satisfaction is known as resolution.

As we mentioned before, sexual dysfunction can happen during any of these phases. Someone might be perfectly able to feel desire and excitement, but might have issues reaching orgasm. Or they might experience orgasm, but not resolution.

Note that the phases go in order, and you can't skip over them. Think about it like a staircase. You can't move from the second step to the third step if you can't get off the first step. Likewise, if you have a problem with excitement, the second phase, you can't just skip that one and go to orgasm and resolution.

Remember Jim? He loves his wife Gina, but he's never really been interested in sex with anyone. Jim's dysfunction is happening during the desire phase. He doesn't really fantasize or think about sex, and as a result, he never progresses to the other stages.

Types of Dysfunction

The American Psychiatric Association distinguishes nine different types of sexual dysfunction disorders, which can be divided into four main groups. The first group is disorders of desire. As you might expect, these are disorders that deal with the first phase of sexual activity, desire.

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is a general lack of interest in sex, like Jim has. The other disorder of desire is sexual aversion disorder, which involves not wanting your genitals touched.

When someone has problems with physical arousal, these are called disorders of excitement. The two dysfunctions that fall into this category are female sexual arousal disorder and male erectile dysfunction. Both of these involve the person not becoming physically aroused.

Disorders of the orgasm phase can result in either a failure to reach orgasm or reaching orgasm too quickly. Female orgasmic disorder and male orgasmic disorder involve a person who is not able to reach orgasm. Meanwhile, premature ejaculation is when a man reaches orgasm too soon.

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