What factors influence our sexual functioning?
Human sexual functioning is a highly complex phenomenon, influenced by a range of factors. The factors that can influence sexual functioning are often categorised in terms of biological, psychological, and social, with modern sexual medicine indicating that sexual dysfunction is typically an interaction of various biological, psychological, and social factors, rather than one singular factor (Wincze & Weisberg, 2015). Healthy sexual functioning is important to human beings in living a healthy and fulfilled life and is often correlated with positive health outcomes such as increased mental wellbeing, healthy self-esteem, positive relationships, improved cardiovascular health and overall quality of life. Healthy sexual functioning is characterized by a lack of pain or discomfort during sexual activity. To have healthy sexual function, it does not necessarily mean you need to have perfect sex or achieve an orgasm, and it is important to note that sex is different for everybody. There are some shoulds when it comes to sex; sex should be pain free, enjoyable, consensual, and fun.
Biological factors that influence sexual function:
Biological factors that may influence sexual functioning include the ageing process, certain medications (e.g. SSRI’s), chronic health conditions, illness, physical health problems, disability, diet, and sleep. Making small changes to things you can change may help in improving your sexual health, for example exercising more regularly, eating well, and ensuring you sleep enough every night,
Psychological factors that influence sexual function:
Psychological factors such as performance anxiety, low mood, stress, body image, previous traumatic experiences, mental health conditions and poor self-esteem may also influence sexual functioning (Fielder, 2013). For example, for women / vulva owners living with a sexual pain disorder such as GPPPD (AKA vaginismus), the research illustrates psychological factors, in particular anxiety (Rosenbaum, 2011), is strongly associated with the onset of the disorder. Negative views about sex and sexuality (Ward & Ogden, 1994), increased levels of anxiety (Watts & Nettle, 2010), and historical experience of sexual abuse (Reissing et al., 2003) are all psychological risk factors for GPPPD. It is therefore important to look after your mental health if you are wanting to improve your sexual health, which can be done through therapy with a counsellor, psychologist or other trained mental health professional.
Social factors that influence sexual function:
Social factors such as relationship conflict, negative societal views of sex, lack of social support, negative family of origin views of sexuality, LGBTQIA+ minority distress, lack of sexual education and sociocultural context may also affect an individual’s sexual functioning (Fielder, 2013). There are very unhealthy standards and expectations set within society regarding sex, thanks to the porn industry and the “hook-up culture” curated by dating apps. It is so important to surround yourself with people who encourage healthy views of sex and sexuality, as well as engaging in proper education around sex. Checking in with your partner around any misconceptions or outdated views of sex is always important, which relationship counselling can also help with.
Author: Abbey Sawyer Sexologist, MAAPi, PostGradDipPsych, BPsychSci, BCrim.
Abbey is a Sexologist who is near completion of her Master of Science in Medicine degree, specialising in psychosexual therapy. Abbey is passionate about the interlink between psychological health and sexuality, and enjoys supporting people of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds to enrich their sexual lives and improve their mental health.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129
Fielder, R. (2013). Sexual functioning. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, 1774–1777. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_668
Fielder, R. (2013). Sexual Functioning. In: Gellman, M.D., Turner, J.R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1005-9_668
Reissing, E. D., Binik, Y. M., Khalif, S., Cohen, D., & Amsel, R. (2003). Etiological correlates of vaginismus: Sexual and physical abuse, sexual knowledge, sexual self-schema, and Relationship Adjustment. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 29(1), 47–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/713847095
Rosenbaum, T. (2011). Addressing anxiety in vivo in physiotherapy treatment of women with severe vaginismus: A clinical approach. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 37(2), 89–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623x.2011.547340
Ward, E., & Ogden, J. (1994). Experiencing vaginismus sufferers’ beliefs about causes and effects. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 9(1), 33–45. https://doi.org/10.1080/02674659408409565
Watts, G., & Nettle, D. (2010). The role of anxiety in Vaginismus: A case-control study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(1), 143–148. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01365.x
Wincze, J. P., & Weisberg, R. B. (2015). Sexual dysfunction, third edition: A guide for
assessment and treatment (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Publications.