Understanding the Emotional Side of Sexual Dysfunction

Learn how the physical causes and emotional effects of sexual dysfunction are often closely intertwined.

a young couple heterosexual with relationship issues sit on a coach looking away from each other

Medically reviewed in June 2022

Updated on June 28, 2022

There’s no doubt that sex and emotion can be intertwined. For starters, your mental state has a lot to do with your interest in sex. You probably know how hard it can be to get in the mood with a big work deadline on your mind or after having a fight with your partner, for example. If sexual dysfunction is keeping you from enjoying sex, that can also take a big toll on your emotions and your partner’s.

Feelings can get pushed into the fray
Sexual dysfunction encompasses a range of issues that prevent someone from having and enjoying sex. Symptoms can include problems with sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, sexual pain disorders, and more. These challenges can appear at nearly any point in a person's life and may occur suddenly or over time.

Sexual dysfunction can be the result of a health condition (like heart disease or diabetes) or it can be associated with certain lifestyle and environmental factors, such as substance use. Sometimes the issues don’t have any clear cause.

It's important to note that while a person may struggle with the physical issues of their sexual dysfunction, dealing with the psychological impact of the inability to enjoy sex can be challenging, as well. Frustration, anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, and anger are all emotions that both partners can feel as a result of sexual dysfunction.

A 2018 article published in the Journal of Urology surveyed men after treatment for prostate cancer. The researchers found that men who had post-treatment issues, including sexual dysfunction, had more emotional distress up to two years later than those who didn’t experience these symptoms.

In another study from the University of Zurich, published in 2014 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers polled over 1,500 women from Mexico, Italy, and South Korea, to understand how men’s ejaculation and premature ejaculation impacted their sexual activity.

The majority of respondents said that a satisfying sex life doesn't only rely on the physical act of sex, but also includes elements such as kissing, touching, and other kinds of sexual stimulation. Nearly half of the women were dissatisfied with sex because of men’s preoccupation with premature ejaculation or reaching orgasm. This left little to no room for the women’s needs, wants, and desires. This led women to feel frustrated, to lose interest in sex, and in some cases, even resulted in a breakup.

It's important to address sexual dysfunction right away
If you or your partner find yourself frustrated with symptoms of sexual dysfunction, it’s important to look at the big picture. It can help to ask questions including:

  • Is it affecting other areas of my life?
  • How does my partner feel about it?
  • Has it impacted my relationship with others in the past?
  • Is it the reason why I don’t feel good about myself?
  • What are my options for correcting symptoms?

Most people dealing with some sort of sexual dysfunction have treatment options that can help. Your first step should be discussing potential solutions with a healthcare provider. Once you've done that, you can be confident that you're on the right path to regaining control of your sex life and the emotions that are often inseparable from it.

Article sources open article sources

Cleveland Clinic. Sexual Dysfunction. Page last reviewed October 27, 2020.
Burri A, Giuliano F, McMahon C, and Porst H. Female partner's perception of premature ejaculation and its impact on relationship breakups, relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction. J Sex Med 2014;11:2243-2255.
Orom H, Biddle C, Underwood W 3rd, Nelson CJ. Worse Urinary, Sexual and Bowel Function Cause Emotional Distress and Vice Versa in Men Treated for Prostate Cancer. Journal of Urology. 2018;199(6):1464-1469.

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