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J Sex Med. 2004 Jul;1(1):40-8.

Revised definitions of women's sexual dysfunction.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.



Existing definitions of women's sexual disorders are based mainly on genitally focused events in a linear sequence model (desire, arousal and orgasm).


To revise definitions based on an alternative model reflecting women's reasons/incentives for sexual activity beyond any initial awareness of sexual desire.


An International Definitions Committee of 13 experts from seven countries repeatedly communicated, proposed new definitions and presented at the 2nd International Consultation on Sexual Medicine in Paris July 2003.


Expert opinions/recommendations are based on a process that involved review of evidence-based medical literature, extensive internal committee discussion, informal testing and re-testing of drafted definitions in various clinical settings, public presentation and deliberation.


Women have many reasons/incentives for sexual activity. Desire may be experienced once sexual stimuli have triggered arousal. Arousal and desire co-occur and reinforce each other. Women's subjective arousal may be minimally influenced by genital congestion. An absence of desire any time during the sexual experience designates disorder. Arousal disorder subtypes are proposed that separate an absence of subjective arousal from all types of sexual stimulation, from an absence of subjective arousal when the only stimulus is genital. A new arousal disorder has provisionally been suggested, namely that of persistent genital arousal. Orgasm disorder is limited to absence of orgasm despite high subjective arousal. Dyspareunia includes partial painful vaginal entry attempts as well as pain with intercourse. Variable reflex muscle tightening around the vagina and an absence of abnormal physical findings are noted in the definition of vaginismus. Women's sexuality is highly contextual and descriptors are recommended re past psychosexual development, current context, as well as medical status. Diagnosing sexual disorders need not imply intrinsic dysfunction of the woman's own sex response system.


The International Definitions Committee has recommended a number of fundamental changes to the existing definitions of women's sexual disorders.

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