Why should I seek help?
Is it my fault?
What anatomy is involved?
What is healthy sexual function?
How do I know when to seek help?
Where do I go for help?
What can I expect when seeking help?
How do I seek help?
What self-help options do I have?
What self-help options do I have for female sexual problems?
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There are many things you can try on your own before you seek help. Trying these things out beforehand may help you with your problem, or it may give you useful information to share with your healthcare provider when you do seek help. You can also try these if you’re not ready to seek help yet. However, none of these suggestions are a one-size-fits-all solution. You may not be comfortable with them or they may not be helpful for you. I encourage you to consider the options, but you don’t have to try all (or any) of them.
One important note: masturbation and vibrators are such common and effective treatment options for female sexual dysfunctions (FSDs) that I have dedicated entire sections to them. However, they also fit under self-help for problems with partnered sex or orgasm.
Things to try on your own
Masturbation is the manual stimulation (with a hand or another object) of the genitals, either by yourself or by a partner. It a safe and healthy sexual outlet for everyone, including women who can’t consent to partnered sex (e.g., some women with disabilities) or who don’t have access to a consenting partner.
Many women masturbate, though prevalence varies with age. Women aged 25 to 29 have the highest prevalence of masturbation both in the past month and over their lifetime: 85% of these women have ever masturbated, and 52% have masturbated in the past month. The age groups with the lowest prevalence of masturbation are girls aged 14 to 15 (43% have ever masturbated) and women aged 70 or more (12% have masturbated in the last month). Needless to say, women of all ages masturbate!
There is no correct way to masturbate—the best way is simply what feels best for you. Women may touch their clitorises with their fingers or vibrators. Most women who masturbate with a dildo add clitoral stimulation and few women masturbate by stimulating only the vagina.
Women may enhance masturbation through fantasies, watching pornography, reading erotica, listening to music, or thinking about previous sexual experiences. On average, it takes women about four minutes to orgasm from masturbation—but a shorter or longer time is okay too.
There are many benefits to masturbation. Masturbation allows women to explore and express their own sexuality, and it allows for these benefits without the risks and stressors of partnered sex (e.g., unwanted pregnancy, STIs, worrying about taking too long to orgasm). Women are more likely to experience orgasms (and multiple orgasms!) during masturbation than during partnered sex. Masturbation allows women to experience pleasure and fun, relieve tension, engage in self-care, and avoid engaging with other people.
There are many myths about masturbation, such as the belief that it will cause physical deterioration and disfigurement. However, masturbation is healthy as long as you are enjoying it.
Some women do not masturbate, and there are a variety of reasons for this, including being asexual (though some asexual women do masturbate), not knowing how to masturbate, shame, fear of being caught, low sex drive, a partner’s insecurity, lack of interest, being in a relationship (though many women still masturbate when they are in relationships), and religious prohibition (though many religious people masturbate anyway). While masturbation is great and I highly recommend it, it’s also okay if you don’t want to try it!
Masturbation is a very commonly recommended treatment option for many women’s sexual function concerns, especially issues with orgasm. Women who masturbate already know what gives their body pleasure, so it’s significantly easier to communicate this to a partner. I strongly recommend giving masturbation a very thorough effort for any sexual problem, especially because this will likely save you time with your healthcare provider.
Some people are reluctant to masturbate due to prohibitions from their religion, partner, or self. If this is the case for you, consider these ideas:
- If your partner does not want you to masturbate, try discussing how you both feel about solo masturbation for the purposes of tackling a sexual problem. Masturbation is a lot easier without an audience, and your partner may even want you to masturbate! You can revisit not masturbating later if it helps you achieve your goals.
- If your partner does not want you to masturbate, discuss how you both feel about masturbating together. While this will likely be more distracting to you, it may be less threatening to your partner, and it has two other potential benefits: (a) it may be sexy to watch and/or be watched, and (b) it allows you to show your partner what you like. You can even try experimenting with different ways to make it less uncomfortable, such as in the dark or over the phone.
- If your religion prohibits masturbation, I invite you to pray about it. You may get an answer telling you that masturbation is okay, or that it’s okay in this circumstance, and you may not. No one else can answer that question for you.
Some books that may be of help with exploring masturbation:
- Sex for One by Betty Dodson – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- For Yourself by Lonnie Barbach –Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- Tickle Your Fancy: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Self-Pleasure by Sadie Allison – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex by Jenny Block – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher | Chapters
- Pocket Sex Guide by Anne Hooper – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | AbeBooks
Use a vibrator
Vibrators are very effective at helping women orgasm alone or with a partner.
PinkCherry and LoveHoney are Canadian websites that have enormous collections of vibrators. I recommend starting with a small and affordable one so that you don’t feel intimidated or waste money, and then make a more expensive purchase later based on your experience with the first vibrator. Check out Dr. Lindsey Doe’s vibrator guide video on YouTube for a good overview or check out my personal recommendations:
- A vibrating cock ring such as the We-Vibe Pivot Vibrating Silicone Ring or the Je Joue Mio Luxury Rechargeable Vibrating Cock Ring. The great thing about these is that they provide hands-free vibration during intercourse!
- Lelo Nea 2 – This vibrator is small and has a variety of low to high settings.
- Any clitoral suction toys, especially the Womanizer and Satisfyer.
- Hitachi Magic Wand – This is a powerful vibrator and it only has two settings and they’re both very powerful, so if you’re new to vibrators, I recommend putting a folded-up cloth between you and the vibrator to make the vibrations tolerable. This vibrator is also enormous (and great for your shoulders and back too!) so it limits the positions with which you can use it with a partner (here are some suggestions from Cosmo or Shape). However, it’s great for masturbation. It also plugs into an outlet, so you never have to worry about batteries dying. Reminder: don’t use any powered sex toys (or the wireless version) in water unless they are specifically designed for that!
Learn about general female sexual function
- Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- Check out Healthy Hooha’s website, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube for more information about healthy sexual function that is both easy to understand and medically accurate!
- The Vagina Bible by Dr. Jen Gunter – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- Dr. Heather Howard of Center for Sexual Health and Rehabilitation has a resource page.
- Tell Me What You Want by Justin J. Lehmiller – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women by Tristan Taormino – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Simon & Schuster
- You Are Not Broken podcast – Apple Podcasts | Google Play
- Guide to Self Help Books: Women’s Sexual Health and Sexuality and Sex Education
Learn about new ways to experience pleasure
- Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher | Chapters
- Come As You Are worksheets
- Emjoy app – Google | Apple
- OMGYes – Videos and interactive content for enhancing pleasure during masturbation and/or partnered sex. One-time fee. There are definitely images and diagrams of female genitals on this site.
- Cindy Darnell: The Pleasure Program (free 21-day online course)
- Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters—And How to Get It by Laurie Mintz – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction by Debby Herbenick – Publisher | Amazon
Learn about other women’s sexual experiences
The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler
- This is actually a play (which I recommend attending if you get the opportunity), but you can also read the book.
- This book is a compilation of 3000 women’s answers to all sorts of questions about their thoughts and experiences with sex.
- This book describes how the author overcame shame, sexual pain, and absent desire, and provides guidance for the reader to do the same.
The Diary of My Broken Vagina | Comedy Blaps – YouTube
- This is an 11-minute video with a comedic look at sexual dysfunction.
- This book studies the sexual desires of three women over eight years.
Check out sexual health education websites
One important consideration: Google is a useful tool, but it can be difficult to tell what’s helpful or harmful and what’s proven or unproven. Googling can lead you to all kinds of false information and untested or unsafe treatments, or convince you that you have a condition that you do not actually have. As much as possible, stick to the information or resources in this web-based guide, as it has been designed based on the latest peer-reviewed and evidence-based literature on women’s sexual health. If you have health questions before, after, or between appointments, you can phone HealthLink (just dial 811) or visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca. HealthLink will connect you with registered nurses (usually) who have access to computer software where they can find answers to all kinds of health questions. MyHealth.Alberta.ca is a similar resource but it allows you to type in keywords yourself to search for accurate information within their site. MyHealth.Alberta.ca also has a specific section on sexual health with some helpful information. You won’t find answers to everything with these resources, but they are trustworthy and they are more likely to be able to direct you to Alberta resources than any other resources!
There are also some other great sexual health websites available, including:
- Sex and U is an amazing website by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. It has tons of help and accurate information on sexual topics, including your body, sexual activity, sexual arousal, orgasms, consent, and sexual problems.
- Go Ask Alice is a website for all kinds of health topics: alcohol and drugs, emotional health, general health, nutrition and physical activity, relationships, and sexual & reproductive health (with sub-sections on topics such as erotica and pornography, vulvas, labia, clitorises, vaginas, kissing, masturbation, orgasms, toys, and women’s sexual health).
- Teaching Sexual Health is a Canadian resource for parents and teachers, but it can be just as useful for you! I recommend entering through the teacher portal, as it seems to have more comprehensive information. You can also find Teaching Sexual Health Alberta Health Services on YouTube.
- Dr. Lindsey Doe has a YouTube channel called Sexplanations with videos like How to know your body is aroused, What’s the cervix? How do you stimulate it?, Orgasmic Sex Positions, and Masturbation Frequency (a partial rant).
Self-help for problems with partnered sex
Many women are having sex that doesn’t give them enough stimulation to orgasm. Try things that will enhance your arousal—cunnilingus, vibrators, etc. Vaginal intercourse does not directly stimulate the clitoris glans and most women require some sort of direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm, so if you aren’t having an orgasm from vaginal intercourse, there’s nothing wrong with you. While a few men feel threatened by vibrators (a different problem to tackle), many men find it sexy when a woman touches herself with her own hand.
The video Orgasmic Sex Positions by Dr. Lindsey Doe shows 10 great ways to orgasm with a partner. There is no nudity in this video, as the positions are demonstrated by people who are fully clothed.
Thrusting sex techniques by Jacqueline Hellyer is also a great video for men about how to make vaginal intercourse more pleasurable for their partners. This video does not have any nudity either, but she does use a dildo and her hand for demonstration.
Coital Alignment Technique – This technique is similar to missionary position, but the man positions his body a little higher/further forward so that his penis stimulates the woman’s clitoris. Just be aware that this website refers to “female coital anorgasmia” (women’s inability to orgasm from vaginal intercourse), which should not be thought of as a dysfunction but rather a feature of women’s sexuality. The Coital Alignment Technique is #5 in Dr. Lindsey Doe’s video, Orgasmic Sex Positions. You can learn more about the Coital Alignment Technique it at CoitalAlignmentTechnique.com.
Woman on top positions are also great for increasing women’s pleasure. There is nothing fancy about this. These positions merely allow a woman to control the angle and depth of penetration. If she has a free hand, she can stimulate her clitoris, or her partner can stimulate her clitoris.
There are also lots and lots of books on experiencing sexual pleasure with a partner.
- Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | AbeBooks
- Orgasms for Two by Betty Dodson – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com audiobook (#ad) | Publisher
- She Comes First by Ian Kerner – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- The Ultimate Guide to Cunnilingus: How to Go Down on a Woman and Give Her Exquisite Pleasure by Violet Blue – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- Let Me Count the Ways by Marty Klein – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad)
- How to make sexual more enjoyable without vaginal intercourse
- Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life by Nan Wise – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher | Chapters
Self-help for sexual desire problems
Reminder: spontaneous desire is exciting but not necessarily common in long-term relationships. Responsive desire is still normal!
Remember when we learned about the Dual Control Model/Sexual Tipping Point model of sexual response? Our sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm are influenced by a variety of biological, psychological, and social factors. Some of these factors enhance our sexual response (e.g., being touched how we like to be touched, feeling relaxed), and some of these factors inhibit (e.g., having a giant to-do list, medications).
Many times when people are looking to fix their sexual problems, they think they just need to “spice things up” (enhance) by trying new things like threesomes, sex toys, or outdoor sex. But enhancing only does so much, and enhancing can even be pointless if your inhibitors are too abundant and/or strong!
While enhancers will probably provide some benefit (at least temporarily), a better place to start might be addressing the things that are inhibiting sexual response (e.g., giant to-do list, lack of privacy). Emily Nagoski’s exercise Turning Off the Offs will help you identify and alter the things that are inhibiting your sexual response.
Here are some books that might be of use in increasing desire:
- Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire by Lori Brotto – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher | Chapters
- Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher | Chapters
- Other Come As You Are worksheets
- Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad)
- One of the main tenets of this book is the idea that desire thrives when there is some distance between two people.
Self-help for sexual arousal problems
As many people (women and researchers alike) fail to distinguish between desire and arousal, self-help options for desire and arousal may also overlap. The resources recommended for desire problems are likely helpful for arousal problems as well. There are also some products that may increase arousal (but you should check with your doctor before using any of them):
- Eros clitoral therapy is a small, handheld suction pump that you put on the clitoris to help bring blood to the area.
- Zestra is an oil that can be applied to the clitoris to enhance arousal. You can also purchase it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad).
- On arousal gel provides a buzzing, vibration sensation on the clitoris. You can also purchase it from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad).
Self-help for orgasm problems
It’s okay to want to figure out how to orgasm from vaginal intercourse and there are some things you can try!
- Coital Alignment Technique (mentioned above)
- Touch yourself with your hand during intercourse
- Have your partner touch your clitoris during intercourse
- Touch yourself with a small vibrator (check out my recommendations) during intercourse
- Use a vibrating cock ring (again, check out my recommendations)
Here are some resources to help you learn to orgasm:
- Becoming Orgasmic by Julia Heiman and Joseph LoPiccolo –Amazon.ca (#ad) | Publisher
- The Elusive Orgasm: A Woman’s Guide to Why She Can’t and How She Can Orgasm by Vivienne Cass – Amazon.ca (#ad) | Publisher
- The Ultimate Guide to Orgasm for Women: How to Become Orgasmic for a Lifetime by Mikaya Heart – Simon & Schuster | Amazon.ca
The most common and most effective treatment for most orgasm difficulties is masturbation, so you can save yourself some time and money by trying this easy, fun, effective, and affordable treatment on your own. Check out the resources on masturbation if you’re not sure where to go.
Self-help for sexual pain or penetration problems
- Kirsten Loop’s upcoming book on vaginismus is based on modern pain science and her own 20-year lived experience. Kirsten self-cured her vaginismus in 1998!
- The Ohnut is a wearable ring (for the penis) that prevents deep penetration—and you can customize the depth. You can also get it on Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.
- How to Create A ‘Structured’ Diary for Vaginismus Dilation At Home by Kirsten Loop – available as a free digital download
- When Sex Hurts: A Woman’s Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain by Andrew Goldstein, Caroline Pukall, Irwin Goldstein – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- Pelvic Pain Explained: What You Need to Know by Stephanie A. Prendergast, Elizabeth H. Akincilar – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- A Headache in the Pelvis: The Wise-Anderson Protocol for Healing Pelvic Pain: The Definitive Edition by David Wise Ph.D., Rodney Anderson M.D. – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher
- When a Woman’s Body Says No to Sex: Understanding an Overcoming Vaginismus by Linda Valins – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | AbeBooks
- Vagina Problems: Endometriosis, Painful Sex, and Other Taboo Topics by Lara Parker – Chapters | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com
- Reduce Sexual Pain: A New Way to Look at Sex and Reduce Sexual Pain: A Guide for Couples and Reduce Sexual Pain: Pleasurable Activities and Products by Heather Howard. These are short PDFs.
- The SexMed Advocate website: Why does sex hurt?
- AHS Pelvic Floor Clinic – Online Educational Workshops
Self-help for problems stemming from sexual abuse
- Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Wendy Maltz – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher | AbeBooks
- Sexual Healing: The Completest Guide to Overcoming Sexual Problems by Barbara Keesling – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | AbeBooks
While endometriosis itself is not a sexual dysfunction, I have included resources on endometriosis for two reasons: (1) it can cause pain with sexual activity, and (2) women who seek help for endometriosis have had negative experiences with seeking help, taking an average of seven and a half years to get diagnosed.
- Nancy’s Nook Endometriosis Education on Facebook and online.
- MyHealth.Alberta’s pages on endometriosis and endometriosis: care instructions.
- The Mayo Clinic has information on endometriosis symptoms and causes and diagnosis and treatment.
- HealthLine and Johns Hopkins Medicine and WebMD have information on endometriosis.
- The Endometriosis Network Canada has a page for Alberta doctors with expertise in treating endometriosis.
- The Lois Hole Hospital for Women (Edmonton) has a Chronic Pelvic Pain Program to which you could request referral from your healthcare provider.
Join a support group or follow social media
Persistent genital arousal disorder/genito-pelvic dysesthesia (PGAD/GPD)
- Facebook: PGAD Support (you’ll need to go through the PGAD Support Group – Entry Requests first). This group has a ton of resources on coping with PGAD/GPD.
- Facebook: Spinal surgery for GPD/PGAD
There is a page on reddit and there are other Facebook groups for PGAD/GPD support. However, I only recommend the above groups because I know that they carefully screen members to ensure that they only admit people who have PGAD/GPD (or a parent, if the patient is a child). These groups are also well-connected with ISSWSH.
Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD)
- Reddit: r/PSSD
- Online Forum: Post-SSRI Sexual Dysfunction Forum
- Online Forum: Post-Accutane Syndrome forum
Pelvic floor dysfunction
- Facebook: Pelvic Floor Dysfunction for Women
- Facebook: Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Support Group
- Facebook: Finding Pelvic Sanity – Pelvic Health Support
Vaginismus and Vulvodynia
- Facebook: Vaginismus Support
- Tight Lipped Podcast on Twitter, Instagram, Apple Podcasts, and online
- Vaginismus Awareness on Twitter
- Dr. Jillian Krapf on Instagram and Twitter
Female sexual health
- Ashley Winter MD || Urologist on Twitter and Instagram
- Rachel S. Rubin, MD (urologist) on Twitter and Instagram
- Dr. Jennifer Gunter (gynecologist) on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
- Dr. Laurie Mintz (therapist) on Instagram and Twitter
- International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook