Your problems might not be as severe as you think they are. (Getty Images)
According to new research, many people think they suffer from sexual dysfunction — but only a very small number actually do.
For the large study, researchers analyzed data from 11,509 sexually active men and women who had at least one sexual partner in the past year. More than 38 percent of men and 22 percent of women reported having one or more sexual problems.
But only 4.2 percent of men and 3.6 percent of women actually met the criteria for sexual dysfunction as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook used by healthcare professionals to diagnose mental disorders (sexual disorders also appear in the DSM). The results were published in The Journal of Sexual Research.
According to the DSM-5, the handbook’s most recent edition, sexual dysfunction requires symptoms that last at least six months and cause clinically significant distress to a patient. They also must happen almost every time or every time a person has a sexual encounter.
The findings aren’t surprising, board-certified clinical sexologist Debra Laino, PhD, tells Yahoo Health, noting that she works daily with people who think they suffer from sexual dysfunction, but don’t meet the clinical diagnosis.
Why do so many people think they have a problem when they actually don’t in the clinical sense?
“Some people want a label so they can identify with it in some way and feel like they have some control over resolving it,” Laino says. “Often people want a medication to ‘fix’ them. Unfortunately that’s often not the answer.”
But New York City sex therapist Ian Kerner, PhD, author of “She Comes First,” tells Yahoo Health that many sexual problems that don’t meet DSM-5 criteria are still problematic for people and need to be resolved.
“Just because somebody is not classifiable under DSM-5 in no way means that they don’t have a legitimate sexual problem nor should it affect their ability to get help,” he says.
Kerner points out that a man suffering from erectile dysfunction would need to suffer from the condition for six months for 75 percent of the time in order to be diagnosed under DSM-5. But a man who suffers from ED 50 percent of the time wouldn’t qualify. “I am not likely to stick to DSM-5 criteria when I have a sex therapy patient,” Kerner admits.
Luckily, Laino says most issues are treatable, whether they qualify as “sexual dysfunction” under DSM-5 criteria or not. “ It could be as simple as communicating better with your partner or as potentially complicated as switching medication until we find the right one,” she says, adding that lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management are also deeply linked with sexual issues.
Kerner stresses that people who suffer from a sexual problem but don’t meet DSM-5 criteria should still seek help from a professional: “If you have a sexual issue, you have a sexual issue. It’s legitimate and credible.”