Physiologic measures of sexual function in women: a review

Fertil Steril. 2009 Jul;92(1):19-34. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.04.041. Epub 2008 Nov 30.


Objective: To review and describe physiologic measures of assessing sexual function in women.

Design: Literature review.

Setting: Studies that use instruments designed to measure female sexual function.

Patient(s): Women participating in studies of female sexual function.

Intervention(s): Various instruments that measure physiologic features of female sexual function.

Main outcome measure(s): Appraisal of the various instruments, including their advantages and disadvantages.

Result(s): Many unique physiologic methods of evaluating female sexual function have been developed during the past four decades. Each method has its benefits and limitations.

Conclusion(s): Many physiologic methods exist, but most are not well-validated. In addition there has been an inability to correlate most physiologic measures with subjective measures of sexual arousal. Furthermore, given the complex nature of the sexual response in women, physiologic measures should be considered in context of other data, including the history, physical examination, and validated questionnaires. Nonetheless, the existence of appropriate physiologic measures is vital to our understanding of female sexual function and dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bartholin's Glands / metabolism
  • Clitoris / blood supply
  • Clitoris / diagnostic imaging
  • Clitoris / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Libido*
  • Plethysmography
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler
  • Uterus / surgery
  • Vagina / blood supply
  • Vagina / physiology