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Self-Help For Sexual Health

Lorraine Benuto, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

list with boxes checked As mentioned throughout this center, sexual health should not be taken for granted, and many sexual disorders are not easily prevented. However, there are many self-help steps that can be taken. These self-help actions are beneficial because they may:

  • maintain or improve one's sexual health
  • reduce the risk of developing a sexual disorder
  • limit the negative impact of having a sexual disorder

1. Get Regular Medical Screening & Evaluation

Sexuality is a taboo topic for many people and discussing sexual health concerns with their doctor can be stressful. It is important for doctors to ask their patients questions regarding their sexual health; but unfortunately, even doctors can be affected by this potentially awkward subject. Oftentimes patients are embarrassed to ask questions and so proper screening for certain conditions is not performed.

The very definition of sexual health emphasizes the importance of discussing sexual health concerns with health care providers. For women, this includes routine mammograms and pap smears. For men, prostate exams are very important because prostate cancer is a fairly common and lethal form of cancer. Because appropriate screening for prostate cancer typically includes a digital rectal exam (and a blood test for prostate-specific antigen), many men may be fearful and embarrassed when recommended for this routine, annual screening. Lack of knowledge, hesitancy to discuss sex-related health problems, and concerns about impotence related to a positive diagnosis or treatment, have been identified as significant barriers to screening (Forrester-Anderson, 2005).

It is important that you establish a comfort level with your doctors so that you can ask questions and receive appropriate screenings. They can also evaluate whether medications may be useful when sexual concerns emerge and whether current medications have side effects that may be related to a sexual concern or problem. We discussed several types of medications throughout this center that are useful for certain types of sexual disorders. It is important that you discuss with your doctor all medications you may be taking, and any concerns you have about side-effects. Your doctor may be able to give you tips for how to reduce certain side effects and/or may be able to adjust your medications. It is of critical importance that you do not make changes to your medication plan without first talking with your health care practitioner.

2. Make Healthy Lifestyle Choices

We talked about how certain lifestyle choices can impact sexual health and function. Because of this, you have some control over certain aspects of your sexual health. Choosing not to smoke and limiting alcohol consumption can help improve sexual health and function. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can improve circulation, which in turn can help to improve sexual health. If diabetes has been diagnosed, keeping blood sugars under control helps to preserve sexual functioning. Finally, we discussed that many medications and their side-effects can create sexual dysfunction.

3. Maintain A Healthy Body Image

We looked at how being dissatisfied with your body is related to sexual dissatisfaction, avoidance of sexual activities, sexual distress, and feeling sexually unskilled. You might want to explore how you feel about your body. If you find that you have low body-esteem and that you are critical of your appearance, you may want to consider that this could be impacting other aspects of your sexuality. You may wish to explore whether you are setting the bar too high when you look at yourself in the mirror because of messages from the media. Remember, the models we see on television, in magazines, on billboards etc. have personal trainers and cooks, hair and make-up artists, and the best air brushers that money can buy!

4. Increase Physical Comfort

Some simple things can make sexual activity more comfortable. For example, menopausal women may experience vaginal dryness and may have difficulty achieving adequate lubrication during the arousal phase. This may be treated using over-the-counter personal lubricants or prescription estrogen (via cream, patch, or vaginal ring). However, it is important to note that while personal lubricants may facilitate sexual activity, they do not treat the underlying issue. Talking about the cause of lubrication difficulties with your doctor (if it is an issue of hormone) or your partner (as sometimes simply increase the amount of foreplay can provide relief) is important. Sometimes aches and pains (e.g., from arthritis) can make sexual activity difficult. This type of pain and discomfort may be relieved by finding a more comfortable position, using positioning devices such as pillows or a foam wedge, or soaking in a tub before sexual activity.

5. Increase Intimacy & Passion in Your Relationships

Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows that with the passage of time, passion can dwindle. It is important keep in mind the idea of relationship maintenance. Just like a car, a relationship requires maintenance to run smoothly. If you notice that passion has dwindled, keep in mind there are certain things you can do to spice things up. For example, sharing new experiences has been shown to increase intimacy and stimulate passion. Take a vacation with your partner or go and learn something new together (e.g., how to surf, take a pottery class). Keep in mind that for young adults, there may be a primary focus on the quantity of sexual activity, while in older, mature adulthood there is a greater emphasis on the quality of sexual activity. Finally, keep in mind the many gender differences that are associated with sexuality. For instance, we have talked about how the female sexual response cycle does not always begin with the Desire Phase leading to an Arousal Phase as it does for men. Women may require being approached by their partner (Arousal), so that sexual desire can be elicited.

6. Educate Yourself: Become a "S-Expert"

As we have emphasized throughout, there are many myths and misperceptions that can create or worsen sexual problems. Education can solve many problems that happen when people have false or unrealistic expectations of themselves, or their partner. A man might be disappointed if his partner doesn't orgasm from penetration, but would be much less disappointed if he knew that this is true of many, if not most women. A woman might wonder what is wrong with her because she doesn't immediately desire her partner the way he seems to. She might worry a great deal less is she knew this happened for about 1/3 of women. These are just some examples of the benefits of education.