Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 1073–1078 | Cite as

Prevalence of Women’s Sexual Desire Problems: What Criteria Do We Use?

  • Marita P. McCabeEmail author
  • Denisa L. Goldhammer
Original Paper


Problems of sexual desire are often cited as the most prevalent of the female sexual dysfunctions. Despite this finding, considerable variability exists when comparing prevalence figures across studies, highlighting the inconsistency in how these problems are defined and therefore measured. The current study was designed to determine how the prevalence estimates of women’s sexual desire problems varied according to the diagnostic criteria adopted to define such problems. The sample consisted of 741 women from Australia, the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Participants were between 18 and 71 years of age and were involved in a heterosexual relationship spanning between 3 months and 49 years duration. Sexual desire problems were defined using a variety of criteria, including (1) meeting DSM-IV-TR criteria for Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), (2) meeting DSM-IV-TR criteria for HSDD, removing the sexual thoughts/fantasy requirement, (3) self-identified “lack of sexual interest,” and (4) low average ratings of sexual desire levels, as assessed using the Female Sexual Desire Questionnaire. The prevalence of sexual desire problems varied from 3.0 to 31.0 % depending upon the criteria used to define such problems. It is important to reach a consensus with regard to the criteria used to define sexual desire problems, in order to standardize and compare studies investigating these problems. How women’s sexual desire problems are conceptualized has implications for their treatment. Therapists may or may not need to address absent sexual thoughts/fantasies and may be working with low normative levels of desire versus subjective evaluations of low desire.


Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder Sexual dysfunction Women DSM-5 


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Avis, N. E., Zhao, X., Johannes, C. B., Ory, M., Brockwell, S., & Greendale, G. A. (2005). Correlates of sexual function among multi-ethnic middle-aged women: Results from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Menopause, 12, 385–398.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bancroft, J., Loftus, J., & Long, J. S. (2003). Distress about sex: A national survey of women in heterosexual relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 193–208.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Basson, R. (2007). Sexual desire/arousal disorders in women. In S. R. Leiblum (Ed.), Principles and practice of sex therapy (4th ed., pp. 25–53). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brotto, L. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 221–239.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Deeks, A., & McCabe, M. P. (2001). Sexual function and the menopausal woman: The importance of age and partner’s sexual functioning. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 219–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dennerstein, L., Koochaki, P., Barton, I., & Graziottin, A. (2006). Hypoactive sexual desire disorder in menopausal women: A survey of Western European women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3, 212–222.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dunn, K. M., Croft, P. R., & Hackett, G. I. (1998). Sexual problems: A study of the prevalence and need for health care in the general population. Family Practice, 15, 19–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ellison, C. R. (2001). A research inquiry into some American women’s sexual concerns and problems. In E. Kaschak & L. Tiefer (Eds.), A new view of women’s sexual problems (pp. 147–160). Binghamton, NY: The Hawthorn Press.Google Scholar
  10. Everaerd, W., & Both, S. (2000). Memories of you: On women’s sexual desire. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 15, 321–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fugl-Meyer, A. R., & Fugl-Meyer, K. S. (1999). Sexual disabilities, problems and satisfaction in 18–74 year old Swedes. Scandinavian Journal Sexology, 2, 79–105.Google Scholar
  12. Giles, K. R., & McCabe, M. P. (2009). Conceptualizing women’s sexual function: Linear vs. circular models of sexual response. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 2761–2771.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goldhammer, D. L., & McCabe, M. P. (2011). Development and psychometric properties of the Female Sexual Desire Questionnaire (FSDQ). Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 2512–2521.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Graham, C. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for female sexual arousal disorders. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 240–255.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Graziottin, A. (2007). Prevalence and evaluation of sexual health problems—HSDD in Europe. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 4, 211–219.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hayes, R. D., Bennett, C. M., Fairley, C. K., & Dennerstein, L. (2006). What can prevalence studies tell us about female sexual difficulty and dysfunction? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3, 589–595.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hayes, R. D., Dennerstein, L., Bennett, C. M., & Fairley, C. K. (2008). What is the ‘true’ prevalence of female sexual dysfunctions and does the way we assess these conditions have an impact? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 777–787.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Heiman, J. R. (2002). Sexual dysfunction: Overview of prevalence, etiological factors, and treatments. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 73–78.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., & Rosen, R. C. (1999). Sexual dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and predictors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281, 537–544.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Meana, M. (2010). Elucidating women’s (hetero) sexual desire: Definitional challenges and content expansion. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 104–212.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Najman, J. M., Dunne, M. P., Boyle, F. M., Cook, M. D., & Purdie, D. M. (2003). Sexual dysfunction in the Australian population. Australian Family Physician, 32, 951–954.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Richters, J., Grulich, A. E., de Visser, R. O., Smith, A. M., & Rissel, C. E. (2003). Sex in Australia: Sexual difficulties in a representative sample of adults. Australian and New Zealand of Public Health, 27, 164–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rosen, R. C. (2002). Assessment of female sexual dysfunction: Review of validated methods. Fertility and Sterility, 77, S89–S93.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Segraves, K. B., & Segraves, R. T. (1991). Hypoactive sexual desire disorder: Prevalence and comorbidity in 906 subjects. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 17, 55–58.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Simons, J., & Carey, M. (2001). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction: Results from a decade of research. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 177–219.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Spector, I. P., Carey, M. P., & Steinberg, L. (1996). The Sexual Desire Inventory: Development, factor structure, and evidence of reliability. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 22, 175–190.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tiefer, L., Hall, M., & Tavris, C. (2002). Beyond dysfunction: A new view of women’s sexual problems. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 225–232.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. West, S. L., D’Aloisio, A. A., Agans, R. P., Kalsbeek, W. D., Borisov, N. N., & Thorp, J. M. (2008). Prevalence of low sexual desire and hypoactive sexual desire disorder in a nationally representative sample of US women. Archives of Internal Medicine, 168, 1441–1449.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. West, S. L., Vinikoor, L. C., & Zolnoun, D. (2004). A systematic review of the literature on female sexual dysfunction prevalence and predictors. Annual Review of Sex Research, 15, 40–172.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyDeakin UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations