Until the 19th century a variety of female ailments, from headaches, to anxiety, to moodiness were amassed under the heading of “Female Hysteria.” Most physicians appreciated this condition since the patients neither died nor ever fully “recovered,” and therefore they provided repeat business for doctors. Often, treatment of these ailments included manual massage of the vulvar area to induce “paroxysms” from the patients. The women would moan, thrash, shake and sometimes cry during these “paroxysms” and be “cured” of their ailments for a period of time.
It was not until mid- 19th century that female sexuality was considered an area deserving of consideration and this was primarily as a result of Freud’s view of women’s sexual identity and Kinsey’s groundbreaking work: Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Most research on female sexuality up until the 1960′s focused on treating the “frigid” female and trying to induce “vaginal” orgasms.
In the 1960′s, however, Masters and Johnson’s work debunked the myth of the vaginal orgasm and the field of female sexual dysfunction expanded. More women were aware of their own sexual health and had clearer expectations of their own sexual activity. While this was progress, the field of female sexual dysfunction was still primarily treated through psychological counseling and analysis. The prevailing belief at this time held that if a woman was properly educated, comfortable with her body, relaxed and psychologically sound, all problems would be resolved.
Of course, the reality for many women belied that.
With the advent of Viagra for men in the 1990′s came a growing awareness of the possible physical causes for sexual dysfunction. As these causes gained acceptance, and the treatment broadened, sexual conditions that have plagued women for centuries began to be addressed and research and treatment efforts accelerated in addressing female sexual dysfunction.
Although numbers are limited, the field of female sexual dysfunction has widened to include urologists, Obstetricians and gynecologists, psychiatrists and sexuality counselors as well as physical therapists. Pharmaceutical companies also began to explore the potential physiological causes for common complaints by women.
Over time, successful physical, psychological and pharmacological treatments became available to reduce the debilitating symptoms associated with decreased sexual desire, inability to become aroused, pain and problems with orgasm. The role of hormones, poor blood flow and muscle tension are better understood and individual treatment protocols were developed to resolve these conditions in women of all ages.
Today, for the first time there are a host of practitioners who can treat a variety of FSD. While practices that address both the physiologic and psychological are rare, they are clearly the wave of the future as more gynecologists, midwives and nurse practitioners see expedient results for their patients.