Effects Of Psychologic Factors on Female Sexual Function

Content Written By: Sandra Leiblum, Ph.D.

Although ideally women would enjoy problem-free, easily arousing, gratifying sex, far too many women complain of an array of sexual inhibitions, from concerns about being seen naked to worries about their smells, sounds or sensations during sex. There are usually a variety of factors at play here. Typically, a host of past and present contributions, or what we sometimes think of as predisposing, precipitating, maintaining, and contextual factors, are responsible for sexual discontents and difficulties.

Predisposing factors that may set the stage for later sexual problems include: constitutional (e.g., illness, anatomical deformities) and early life experiences, such as negative, neglectful or critical parents; an upbringing that invests sex with negative messages about sex or men,; untrustworthy or disappointing relationships; or past experiences of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or violence.
Precipitating factors are the immediate triggers for sexual problems. Although they vary enormously, they may include such experiences as an unwanted or traumatic first sexual experience, repeated criticisms from a spouse, the discovery of a partner’s infidelity or even a single episode of sexual humiliation. Repetitive or traumatic sexual experiences challenge or damage self-confidence and may be pathonomic for sexual dysfunction, even in reasonably resilient individuals.

Finally, maintaining factors such as relationship distress, performance anxiety, guilt, inadequate sexual information or stimulation, psychiatric disorders (especially high anxiety and depression), loss of attraction for a partner, impaired self-image or self-esteem, restricted foreplay, poor communication, and lack of privacy may prolong and exacerbate problems, irrespective of the original predisposing or precipitating conditions. Maintaining factors also include contextual factors that can interfere or interrupt sexual activity, such as environmental constraints or anger/resentment towards a partner.

Should predisposing or precipitating psychologic factors cause you distress, please consider consulting the sexual medicine healthcare professional.


Althof SE, Leiblum SR, Chevert-Measson M, Hartman U, Levine SB, McCabe M, Plaut M, Rodrigues O, Wylie K. Psychological and Interpersonal Contributions to Male and Female Sexual Function and Dysfunction. In TF Lue, R Basson, R Rosen, F Giuliano, S Khoury, F Montorsi (eds), Sexual Dysfunctions in Men and Women (2004) Health Publications, Paris, pp. 73-116.

Leiblum S, Wiegel M. Psychotherapeutic interventions for treating female sexual dysfunction. World J Urol. 2002;20:127–136.

Titta M, Tavolini IM, Moro FD, Cisternino A, Bassi P. Sexual counseling improved erectile rehabilitation after non-nerve-sparing radical retropubic prostatectomy or cystectomy—results of a randomized prospective study. J Sex Med. 2006;3:267–73.

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