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

Masturbate!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

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!

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Get educated

Learn about general female sexual function

Learn about new ways to experience pleasure

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.

The Hite Report by Shere Hite – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher

  • This book is a compilation of 3000 women’s answers to all sorts of questions about their thoughts and experiences with sex.

The Pleasure Plan by Laura Zam – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Publisher

  • 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 BlapsYouTube

  • This is an 11-minute video with a comedic look at sexual dysfunction.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – Amazon.ca or Amazon.com (#ad) | Simon & Schuster | Chapters

  • 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:

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Self-help options

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.

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:

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):

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

Self-help for problems stemming from sexual abuse

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Endometriosis resources

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.

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Join a support group or follow social media

Persistent genital arousal disorder/genito-pelvic dysesthesia (PGAD/GPD)

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)

Pelvic floor dysfunction

Vaginismus and Vulvodynia

Female sexual health

Sex education

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