When love is in bloom this spring, here’s how to light up the libido
A consenting adult and his or her sex drive form a complex and enduring relationship that hopefully lasts forever. But if you don’t have the sex drive you once had, you’re not alone; 48 percent of women report they’ve experienced problems with sexual motivation.
Everyone deserves a healthy sex life. It soothes stress and boosts immunity. Sex may also help lower your blood pressure, boost your mood and lower the risk of some cancers.
Experimental studies suggest that brain-based neurotransmitters and hormone profiles are improved in people who have consistently good sex over time. Improvements in baseline health include increased levels of dopamine (a brain chemical that mediates pleasure), a decrease in the cortisol response to stress and improved testosterone levels, says relationship counselor George Moufarrej, MS, author of Sexual Euphoria: A Complete Guide for Men and Women.
Breakthrough research from the National Social, Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a long-term study on sexuality and well-being, shows there’s a positive relationship between social engagement and sex with longevity and lower mortality.
Here are natural ways to lift your libido.
1. Hone your Hatha
Recent research shows that low libido may be linked to sluggish blood circulation. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine involved sexually active women (ages 22 to 55) who performed daily yoga to boost circulation and relaxation. The women followed a 12-week regimen of an hour of yoga each day followed by a few minutes of deep breathing and other relaxation exercises.
Participants completed sexual function questionnaires at the start and end of the program, which showed that their sexual function scores improved by the end across all six of the areas studied: desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain. The biggest improvements were in women age 45 or older.
2. Do Your Kegels
While yoga boosts blood circulation and tones legs and abs, your pelvic floor muscles—which hold the sexual organs in place—also require regular strength training as we age. Like most other muscles, your pelvic floor should remain strong, and having sex naturally tones them.
Doing 10 minutes of pelvic-control contractions (aka Kegels) every day can tighten and tone muscles involved in pleasurable sexual sensations, which can help women achieve orgasm and help reduce vaginal or pelvic pain during sex.
3. Harness Your Hormones
Women are two to three times more likely to be affected by a decline in sex drive as they age, according to the North American Menopause Society. Reduced sex drive becomes much more common in women starting in their late 40s and 50s, and is directly related to hormonal fluctuations and menopause.
Endocrine Society member Bradley Anawalt, MD, Chief of Medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center, says hormone replacement therapies (HRT) may have a pharmacological effect on lowering the libido. Another study charted women’s menstrual cycles, and the times during a women’s period when PMS symptoms are in high gear. Few women feel amorous when they’re irritable, bloated, tired or depressed, says Dr. Anawalt.
If you experience prolonged low libido and you’re in a relationship and largely healthy, ask your doctor to test your hormone levels at your next annual exam.
4. Eat Your Aphrodisiacs
According to Helen Yoest, author of the new book, Plants with Benefits (St. Lynn’s Press; see sidebar), “Some plants affect brain chemistry by directly increasing blood flow to sex organs or contributing to other pleasurable sensations.” For example, pomegranate is packed with polyphenols like tannins and flavonoids, known to increase female libido, and zinc, critical for men’s sexual performance, according to Yoest. Celery is another one: packed with phthalide, a compound capable of dilating blood vessels and improving circulation.
“Researchers are finding that some foods stimulate the production of hormones that affect our libidos,” says Yoest. Fennel stimulates the effects of estrogen to increase libido in women and has been known to increase testosterone in men. And according to the International Journal of Ayurveda Research, holy basil increases testosterone levels in men, too.
5. Mind Your Medication
Check your medicine cabinet and consider changing your birth control pills or anti-depressants—several varieties of prescription medications can dampen desire. It usually goes away when patients simply switch formulations. “It’s the hormone progestin that seems to affect libido,” says Dr. Anawalt. Anti-depressants such as Prozac are supposed to cheer you up but may also interfere with sexual pleasure.
6. Meditation as Foreplay
When you’re distracted, you just don’t have the time or energy to be turned on, experts confirm. Try a simple, seated 10-minute meditation practice to elicit feelings of love, connection and compassion. Clearing the mental cobwebs and feeling daily gratitude can also help you harness negative thoughts and emotions, so you can shut them off and focus on your partner.
Some research even shows that meditation may decrease rates of depression and improve sleep patterns, yet another boost for your fickle libido.
We spoke with writer and garden expert Helen Yoest about her new book, Plants with Benefits (St. Lynn’s Press), a tantalizing guide to aphrodisiacal herbs, fruits, veggies and flowers that grow in the everyday garden.
Many plants are said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Which ones surprised you the most?
Lavender. I knew it had a lovely scent, but was really surprised to learn that studies prove that lavender (in combination with pumpkin) measured a 40 percent increase in blood flow.
What else does the science show?
A Swiss study on clove extracts showed an improvement in sexual performance. A 2011 University of Vienna study revealed that coffee stimulates the body by triggering the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure system of the brain, and that caffeine in coffee increases blood blow by stimulating the heart and the body’s adrenaline levels.
Dates have been shown to increase fertility in women and sperm count in men. And chocolate contains “love drugs” PEA, AEA, and tryptophan, each with the ability to stimulate the pleasure centers. Cacao contains flavonoids, which help promote blood vessel health.
What is it about the avocado?
A single avocado contains 23 percent of the recommended daily allowance of folate and folate stimulates semen production. Also rich in zinc, B6, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids, the avocado is one of the most nutritious fruits you can eat.
The ancient Aztecs dubbed it “The Testicle Tree,” due to the way the fruit hangs in pairs in the tree. The aphrodisiac attributes were thought to be so powerful that land owners locked their virgin daughters inside during the avocado harvest. That’s strong stuff.