As many as four in 10 women suffer from sexual dysfunction that can be both physically and emotionally damaging, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Many women remain untreated because of the taboos associated with female sexual dysfunction, a term that relates to problems that affect a woman's sex life, including inability to achieve orgasm, decreased sex drive, arousal disorder, vaginal dryness and sexual pain disorders.
But one urologist hopes to debunk the myths and remove the stigmas to help women suffering from sexual dysfunction.
Dr. Karen Boyle, a urologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital who specializes in both male and female sexual dysfunction, said that many women have misconceptions about their sexual problems that stem from being told "it's all in your head."
"There's still this perception that these problems are psychogenic, that if a woman gets more rest, takes a bubble bath, focuses on romance, her problems will go away," Boyle said. "I think romance is important, but if you have underlying sexual dysfunction, it's not going to matter how romantic you are."
The women who see Boyle fill out a female sexual function index, a screening tool. For a woman to be diagnosed with FSD, she must be distressed by her symptoms.
"There are a fair amount of women who have issues but really don't care. If a woman has never had an orgasm, but she isn't troubled by that, she doesn't have FSD," Boyle said.
Even if the symptoms do not bother a woman, Boyle said that they still may be an important indicator of her overall health.
"Erectile dysfunction in men is one of the biggest indicators of small vessel disease, diabetes and high cholesterol," Boyle said.
Although this link has not been studied in women, Boyle said that certain symptoms can suggest bigger problems for women.
"A woman's response to stimulation and her ability to orgasm depend on blood flow to the clitoris. A problem with either could be an indicator of cardiovascular disease," she explained. "Arousal disorder, on the other hand, can be caused by hormonal imbalances, and these same imbalances can also cause bone disease, like osteoporosis, in women."
Boyle expanded her urology practice to include FSD patients when she realized the importance of treating both partners in a couple.
"I would treat men who had erectile dysfunction, and we'd get them working again, and they still wouldn't be having sex," Boyle said.
Patients began asking Boyle whether there was anything she could do to help their partners with sex drive, dryness and arousal problems. Today she prides herself in her practice that focuses on optimizing sex for both partners.
"As a urologist," as opposed to being a gynecologist, "I am in a unique position to work with both men and women."
Although she dismisses the long-held belief that women's sexual problems are merely psychogenic, Boyle acknowledges that sexual dysfunction can cause emotional problems for a couple, and ultimately break down a relationship. She encourages both partners to be involved in treatment, calling her work "couples therapy."