If a woman suffers from an unwanted lack of sexual desire, the problem could be all in her head – literally, according to a recent study.
Research using brain scans found that women who reported normal sexual function differed widely from those with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a researcher at Georgia Regents University said.
The disorder, defined as a lack of sexual desire or fantasies that causes emotional distress or personal difficulties, is estimated to affect 12 percent to 19 percent of women, according to the study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
“When we started looking for women who might participate in those (sexual dysfunction) studies, it was just amazing to me how much of an issue this was for many, many women,” said Dr. Michael P. Diamond, the chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at GRU and the senior author of the study. “It’s a huge issue that affects many, many women, but I think it is something that many people just have not talked about.”
Unlike with erectile dysfunction, there is not usually an easy solution.
“For most forms of sexual dysfunction, we really don’t have good therapies that we can offer women,” Diamond said. There is a need for greater understanding of exactly how human sexual response works.
In the study, which Diamond conducted while at Wayne State University, researchers took a sample of 16 women and looked at their brains in real time through functional MRI as they viewed erotic video clips.
In women who reported normal sexual function, key areas of the brain associated with memory, emotional processing and sensory integration showed greater blood flow. For those with the disorder, there was greater blood flow to areas associated with self-awareness and negative emotional states such as depression.
Clinical trials have looked at different solutions to female sexual dysfunction, such as giving the women testosterone.
“What’s not been done in those studies, that I’m aware of, is to look and see whether there were changes in brain blood flow in conjunction with those sorts of medical therapies,” Diamond said.
Scanning those areas could be a better way to assess whether a therapy is really having an effect, he said.
“If we were able to alter the blood flow patterns to those of an individual who does not have hypoactive sexual desire, the question becomes, would that be a mechanism by which to actually treat this disorder in these women?” Diamond said.