It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine these days without reading about “sexual dysfunction.” While it’s great that sexual issues are being discussed publicly, some of the talk is misleading.

Some physicians, drug companies and the self-help industry seem to believe that everyone should be able to function sexually under all circumstances — and that if we can’t, we have a sexual dysfunction. That’s how they arrive at their recent inflated numbers: that 20 million men are “impotent,” and 40 million women have “female sexual dysfunction.”

These numbers are a product of extremely broad categories. In reality, no body works perfectly all the time. Someone should only be diagnosed sexually dysfunctional if his or her difficulty is chronic, occurring repetitively over a period of time.

All limp penises are not alike. The guy who can’t get it up while feeling the pressure of trying to conceive, the guy who loses his erection when he has sex while angry and the guy who has never had reliable erections as an adult are three entirely different cases. The first two men are certainly not impotent, and the third’s problem may be emotional, physical or some of each.

Similarly, a woman who can’t climax with a husband who criticizes her all week long, a woman who can’t orgasm because she’s too inhibited to ask for her favorite touching and a woman who can’t enjoy sex at all because she was traumatized as a girl are three entirely different situations. We’d have to know more about each of them to know exactly what’s wrong, and what would help them most.

Sexual desire and response involve a complicated mix of biology, psychology, culture and situation. Our bodies require the right blend of all of these to function the way we’d like. Labeling someone or yourself as “dysfunctional” without taking this into account is a mistake. Don’t let a narrow-minded pharmaceutical/medical industry or the simplistic popular press persuade you that you have a problem when you’re merely human.

Our emotions and genitals are connected, and so our feelings affect our sexual functioning. An occasional disappointment does not make you dysfunctional. For an accurate diagnosis of any sexual difficulty, see a sex therapist or specially trained physician; magazines or self-help books are insufficient.

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