female sexual dysfunction

Exercise and Female Sexual Dysfunction

What is female sexual dysfunction?

Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) affects approximately 40% of women. It is defined by the various ways in which an individual is unable to participate in a sexual relationship as she would wish. FSD is a very complex and multi-faceted disorder due to a woman’s perception on sex, comprising of anatomical, psychological, physiological, and social-interpersonal components.

There are multiple classifications of FSD: sexual desire disorder, sexual aversion disorder, sexual arousal disorder, sexual pain disorders, and female orgasmic disorders.

What causes female sexual dysfunction?

There are a variety of physical and mental factors that can contribute to the onset of FSD.

Physical factors:

  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Trauma
  • Chronic conditions (eg. Endometriosis, Vulvodynia, pelvic pain)
  • High-tone pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Increasing age
  • Pregnancy
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer survivors

 

Mental factors:

  • Depression and use of anti-depressants
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt and/or shame
  • Past sexual trauma or abuse
  • Poor interpersonal relationship with partner
  • Body image issues

 

Exercise can help treat FSD!

20 to 30 minutes of high intensity exercise approximately half an hour before sexual interaction has been shown to increase sexual arousal in FSD. This is attributed to the increase in sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity. The SNS is our “fight or flight” response, increasing blood flow, dilating pupils, accelerating heart rate and increasing arterial blood pressure. This increase in SNS activity from exercise has the same effects seen during the later stages of female sexual arousal.

The pelvic floor muscles (PFM) also play a role in normal sexual function. They have the potential to increase lubrication, arousal, orgasm, and desire. If PFM are overactive, it can inhibit relaxation and sometimes cause contraction where relaxation is required, potentially causing painful intercourse. Alternatively, if PFM are underactive and cannot contract, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse may result, both of which are contributing factors to FSD.

Regular exercise combined with PFM exercises have also been shown to assist in sexual satisfaction indirectly by preserving autonomic flexibility, benefiting cardiovascular health and mood.

When it comes to mental health, it has been well documented that exercise has a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and body image, all of which can increase sexual well-being.

Exercise causes a reduction in anxiety and increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. This causes an elevated mood and decreases the negative thought patterns associated with FSD. Exercise also encourages feelings of self-efficacy and a shift from external to internal locus of control. This increases the feeling of having control over the issue.

Yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to help to relax the muscles and the mind are also beneficial.

What now?

  • Consult your GP or OB/GYN if you are experiencing pain, vaginal bleeding or have any other concerns
  • Consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to prescribe safe, effective, and individualised high intensity exercise, PFM exercise, and relaxation exercise
  • Exercise regularly to prevent comorbidities that may worsen FSD, assist in treating depression and anxiety, and preserve SNS flexibility
  • Seek help from a sex therapist/psychologist to assist in psychological factors

If you want to use exercise to help manage FSD, talking to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist is a great place to start. To find one in your area, click here.