Definitions of women's sexual dysfunction reconsidered: advocating expansion and revision

J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2003 Dec;24(4):221-9. doi: 10.3109/01674820309074686.


In light of various shortcomings of the traditional nosology of women's sexual disorders for both clinical practice and research, an international multi-disciplinary group has reviewed the evidence for traditional assumptions about women's sexual response. It is apparent that fullfilment of sexual desire is an uncommon reason/incentive for sexual activity for many women and, in fact, sexual desire is frequently experienced only after sexual stimuli have elicited subjective sexual arousal. The latter is often poorly correlated with genital vasocongestion. Complaints of lack of subjective arousal despite apparently normal genital vasocongestion are common. Based on the review of existing evidence-based research, many modifications to the definitions of women's sexual dysfunctions are recommended. There is a new definition of sexual interest/desire disorder, sexual arousal disorders are separated into genital and subjective subtypes and the recently recognized condition of persistent sexual arousal is included. The definition of dyspareunia reflects the possibility of the pain precluding intercourse. The anticipation and fear of pain characteristic of vaginismus is noted while the assumed muscular spasm is omitted given the lack of evidence. Finally, a recommendation is made that all diagnoses be accompanied by descriptors relating to associated contextual factors and to the degree of distress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / diagnosis*
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / psychology
  • Sexuality / physiology
  • Sexuality / psychology
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Women / psychology