Sex problems

There are many reasons why you might be experiencing sexual problems. The good news that you can do something about it.

Time to read: 5 minutes


About sex problems

Our most important sex organ is between our ears. If our head’s not in the right place, sex is not going to work. We may experience problems with sexual desire ("I’m not interested in sex anymore") and performance ("Things don’t work as they should"). But the good news is that in most cases you can do something about it.

If you have a problem with sex

Sexual desire and performance are very sensitive to what else is happening in our lives – our sexual response is not just a machine to be switched on and off.

If we’re worried or distracted, tired or stressed, depressed or angry, it can be difficult to enjoy sex. There is a huge variation in what is 'normal' in sex. It's also important to be realistic about what sex is.

Be realistic about sex

Pornography and mainstream films are not real. Especially how they represent sex. They present false, misleading and unrealistic expectations of sex.

Judging yourself against what you see on a screen is likely to make sexual issues more difficult to resolve, especially if you judge yourself against pornography.

You may start to feel inadequate if you are a man. But also if you're a woman.

If you're a woman, you may develop unrealistic expectations about how you should respond to sexual touch and how aroused you should be during sex.

This can also be true of men if they expect women to respond as they do in pornography.

There are no rules about how often you should have sex or how you should have it. So if you (and your partner) are happy with your sex life, you don’t have a problem. Your feelings about sex are all that matter.

But if one or both of you is unhappy, dissatisfied or frustrated with your sex life, you should start a conversation with your partner:

  • The most common problem to affect both men and women is loss of sexual interest.
  • The two most common problems for men are difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection and premature ejaculation – climaxing and ejaculating too early.
  • The most common problem for women is pain during intercourse (known as dyspareunia).

If you and/or your partner are experiencing these problems, particularly if they continue for a long time, then it is worth doing something about it.

Why you might have a sexual problem

If you are worried or distracted, tired or stressed, depressed or angry, it can be very hard to have and enjoy sex. Pressure to 'perform' can also create anxiety, making it difficult to become aroused.

Psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress are all likely to interfere with sexual desire and performance.

Physical problems such as obesity and diabetes, as well as medications – especially those used to treat common psychological problems – can all reduce sex drive and performance. The same is true when people drink too much alcohol.

Losing interest in sex, or wanting to have sex but being unable to perform, can be very distressing. And it can become a vicious cycle: when we have sexual difficulties, we worry about them and become distressed, which makes those problems even worse.

If sex is painful

Women may experience pain during sex due to medical conditions like:

  • Endometriosis, where the endometrium (tissue lining the uterus) grows outside the uterus.
  • Vaginismus, a spasm in the vaginal muscles, mainly caused by the fear of being hurt or prior trauma.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, where the tissues deep inside become badly inflamed, and the pressure of intercourse causes deep pain.
  • Vaginal infections.

Painful sex may also be the result of vaginal dryness or commencing intercourse too quickly, meaning the vagina has not had time to prepare for intercourse.

If you experience recurring pain during sex, or are worried about other issues related to sex, consult your GP.

What you can do about it


If you think you might have a sexual problem and would like to try and address it, self-help techniques might do the trick.

Give yourself permission not to want sex all the time or to be the perfect lover

Often a lack of performance may be related to external stresses or circumstances and will pass if you give it time. Trying not to stress too much about it might be the best response.

Communicate with your partner

When sex is not going well, our first reaction is to avoid the issue. That might mean you don’t talk about it and go to bed late so you don’t have to confront the issue. But you will manage it much better if you can discuss it openly.

Often simply raising the issue is enough to take the pressure off.

You may agree, for example, to forget about sex for the moment until other things are easier.

Educate yourself

The more you understand about the human sexual response, and yours in particular, the better you will be able to address any problems. Lots of good information is available on reputable medical websites and there are plenty of good books around. See for example Sexual Health Australia or overcoming sexual problems by Vicki Ford (published in 2010 by Robinson Publishing).

Take a break for a while

Taking a break from sex for a few weeks is a great way to take the pressure off. It allows you to go back to basics and to focus on what really matters – things like intimacy, communication and sharing enjoyable activities.

Get help

If your sexual problems are too severe or last too long, it’s a good idea to seek professional help.

Your GP is a great place to start, especially if you've been seeing the same doctor for a while and they know your situation.

Yes, it may be embarrassing, but your doctor will have heard your problem many times before and the embarrassment quickly passes once you’ve plucked up the courage to mention it.

Your doctor can screen for any physical causes and can provide advice on methods to overcome the problem.

If you need one, there are many competent and experienced sex therapists around, but it is always best to get a referral or recommendation from your general practitioner.

Online resources