female sexual interest/arousal disorder

Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder Treatment: A Mindful Approach

Female sexual arousal disorder or female sexual dysfunction is more widespread than you might think. Luckily, there is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting mindfulness, a non-judgmental moment-to-moment awareness, may significantly improve female and male sexual dysfunction. 

In a study that surveyed 32,000 women, 43 percent of female respondents reported experiencing a sexual problem to some degree – either complaining of low desire, problems with arousal, or difficulty reaching orgasm. This study alone shows a significant prevalence of sexual function problems in women. 

Canadian psychologist and sex researcher Lori Brotto is no stranger to this widespread female issue — she has spent 15 years researching the mindfulness-based treatment of female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD). 

Inspired by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979 and is largely credited with bringing mindfulness to the West. 

Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program which is used to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression

Brotto believed this mindfulness-based therapeutic modality could help women overcome the physiological factors that often prevent them from experiencing sexual arousal and pleasure. 

She set out to research the effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for sexuality (MBCT-S) as a treatment of female sexual dysfunction. 

What is female sexual dysfunction?

According to the Mayo Clinic, female sexual dysfunction can be characterized by persistent problems with the sexual response (arousal), desire, ability to orgasm, or vaginal pain. 

These problems are often categorized as:

  • low sexual desire
  • orgasmic disorder
  • arousal disorder
  • sexual pain disorder

Female sexual dysfunction can be distressing, frustrating, and can cause tension in any sexual partnership. 

What causes it?

While physiological factors – such as heart health, menopause, and advanced age – play a role, researchers have found the most common cause of female sexual dysfunction is caused by a host of psychological factors. Female arousal and the female orgasm begin in the brain. 

Dr. Brotto mentions, “In the case of low libido – mood, interpersonal relationships, and general wellbeing are more closely linked to low desire than any physiological factor.” 

Those who experience depression, anxiety, neurological conditions, gynecological conditions, emotional distress, or have a history of sexual abuse may be at a higher risk of female sexual dysfunction.

Mindfulness-Based female sexual dysfunction treatment study

Mindfulness, as it relates to this study, is defined as a non-judgmental, moment-to-moment awareness. The treatment program utilized was the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for sexuality (MBCT-S) program.

In a 2014 study led by a Brotto team, 117 female participants seeking treatment for low sexual desire were treated utilizing 90-minute group sessions that included mindfulness meditation, cognitive therapy, and education. 

Researchers found significant positive changes utilizing mindfulness-based group therapy as compared to the delayed treatment control group (having not received treatment yet) at the 6-month follow up. 

At the 6-month follow-up, participants who received mindfulness-based group therapy reported significant improvements in sexual desire, sexual arousal, lubrication, sexual satisfaction, and overall sexual functioning.

Sex-related distress was also greatly decreased as were orgasmic difficulties and depressive symptoms. 

The researchers concluded the study by stating:

“Mindfulness-based group therapy significantly improved sexual desire and other indices of sexual response, and should be considered in the treatment of women’s sexual dysfunction.” 

So, is mindfulness a feasible treatment for sexual dysfunction?

Research is certainly very promising and the body of research continues to expand. Mindful meditation and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy offer well-documented relief from stress, depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues. These are the same psychological barriers many men and women experience when it comes to their sexual function. 

Mindfulness can also improve sexual function as it enhances focus, relaxation, and attentiveness in the present moment. The relaxation of both the mind and body are required for proper sexual functions like arousal and orgasm.  

“Skills such as mindfulness teach the brain to connect more completely with the body, allowing us to experience all of the sensations of sex. In my opinion, sensational and satisfying sex is simply not possible without mindfulness,” says Dr. Brotto.

The budding research of mindfulness as a situational erectile dysfunction treatment

Many men experience situational sexual dysfunction which can be largely attributed to psychological factors such as anxiety, stress, depression, and low self-esteem.

While this research has only just begun, mindfulness is now being suggested as a psychological intervention for men with situational sexual function problems. This type of treatment aims to combat the aforementioned psychological factors.

In a 2018 pilot study led by Brotto researchers, 10 men who experience situational erectile dysfunction were recruited and enrolled in a 4-week mindfulness-based treatment group (a very similar program to what was used in the female studies).

“Sessions were 2.25 hours in length, included daily home-practice activities, and integrated elements of psychoeducation, sex therapy, and mindfulness skills.” 

As pilot studies determine feasibility, researchers concluded that the mindfulness group therapy framework offers a feasible and promising treatment for men with situational erectile dysfunction. 

Conclusion

Mindfulness-based treatment is now being explored as a sexual dysfunction treatment for both men and women. There is a promising body of research building and researchers have found great results so far, especially in the more extensive female-focused studies. 

Dr. Lori Brotto has been leading the way to find root-cause solutions for female arousal disorders through mindfulness-based treatments.

There are topical and oral treatments that can help with physiological related sexual dysfunction problems, however, if the cause is not physiological, much can be improved by easing common psychological barriers. 

For female arousal problems, you might consider a short term sexual aid such as female arousal gels and O creams which may help kick start female arousal function. 

Related: O Cream: A Libido Boost for Women

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