The cultural perception of sexual dysfunction

Published on August 14, 2020

The term culture is a generalized term used in various ways, at its core however, it relates to the shared values and meanings of a particular group – determining and defining identity of group. Culture, in other words, can be seen as the sum of human productive activity in a given space, including habits, institutions and customs. Thus, the impact of culture on the well-being of personality is a significant part of clinical work with disorders of behaviour, including sexual dysfunction. It is pertinent to understand the way in which sexual behaviour is perceived by the individuals since it is inexorable that culture does play a complex role in sexual activity, be it heterosexual, homosexual or any other minority group behaviours.

The study of sexual dysfunction has missed out to gender identity syndromes perhaps because of the alleged unusual nature of these conditions. For psychotherapists, the development of articulate model of the association between culture, sexual dysfunction and distress must lie at the heart of diagnosis. Most psychiatrists, nowadays carry several characteristics related to gender, religion and so on.

As with symptoms, the diagnosis of sexual dysfunction in the health centre does not take place within a relative space as patients are present at certain times, to specific locations. The functioning is evaluated by the individual, their partners and their families as well as by the clinical practitioner. In some social settings, the clinical practitioner of sexual dysfunction is an obstetrician or a primary care physician, in others, a psychiatrist. In South Asian cultures like Pakistan, alternative specialists such as hakim plays the role of sex experts.

To comprehend how culture can and should shape the dealing of individuals and couples with sexual dysfunction, it is important to discuss the ways in which culture influences the way in which sexual dysfunctions are diagnosed and the diagnostic system itself. For Davis (1998), Western health views of sexual dysfunction are intrinsically associated to concepts of sexual eccentricity and is rooted in the narrowly defined factors of the human sexual response cycle including the lack of clinical studies on the influence of cultural or social elements on the development of sexual problems. Therefore, our cultural beliefs not only outline the prevalence of indications and expressions to the experts, but also the perception of what establishes a disorder like ‘excessive masturbation’, which is treated as a disorder in some Indian cultures (e.g. Singh 1960), and is noted as a presenting problem in an Asian man in a study of sexual dysfunction in Asian couples (Bhugra 1988).

It is understood that cultural beliefs can cause anxiety and emotional suffering that are articulated in characteristic ways. The role of a culture can be seen when a person counters stress in a socially acceptable way for example, in some cultures loss of desire is regarded as a safe mode of presenting with illness than ejaculatory dysfunction, even if both symptoms are present. Individual approaches to sex, for example seeing it as unclean, may impact the provenance of sexual dysfunction as either psychological or somatic. Thus, culture also affects the way in which people label a disorder, how they react to it emotionally and seek support, and what resources they use. It may be wondered that comparatively obstructive attitudes in a cultural group would be less beneficial to coping and help seeking.

Sex is regarded a complex psychophysiological process, and the role of cultural factors is poorly understood (Bancroft 2002). The cultural knowledge over the lifespan shapes the behavioural patterns related with sexual arousal. Malhotra & Wig (1975) describe a deeply rooted belief among South Asian males that it takes 40 drops of foods to make one drop of fat, 40 drops of fat to make one drop of blood, 40 drops of blood to make one drop of marrow, and 40 drops of marrow to produce one drop of semen. As a result, masturbation affects both mind and body connectedly (Bhugra 1989).

The evaluation of an individual’s attitude towards sex and other possible factors will help the practitioner to comprehend the underlying cause of the problem and make recommendations for the right treatment. The clinical finding concerning the diagnosis of sexual pathology must take into consideration the cultural factors which will influence the sexual experience. 

It is evident that most parts of the Eastern world have much higher rates of some form of sexual dysfunction than the West and, these disparities are most likely related to cultural differences, considering the role of culture in the management of sexual dysfunction in different cultural contexts. It is imperative to be aware of cultural influences such as power relationships between sex and gender, laws, economic resources and the levels of stress are all of significance.

Furthermore, the importance of cultural factors in shaping classifications and thresholds for sexual difficulties for both the clinician and the patient must not be underestimated. Expectations of treatment and a detailed positioning of the problem in a social and marital framework are crucial, as is an understanding of the values of clinicians themselves. Such structures are also useful in thinking about the rejection of help in different situations.


Category(s):Anxiety, Couple Counseling, Family Problems, Fertility Issues, Health / Illness / Medical Issues, Infidelity, Marital Counseling, Men's Issues, Relationships & Marriage

Written by:

Ahmer Zuberi

The writer is a Psychologist and determined to break the stigma around mental health. He provides counselling to overcome emotional turmoil and dysfunctional thoughts; allowing individuals to lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives.


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