With Valentine's day soon approaching comes, some may be lamenting over what to do about their languishing libido. More than half of men and two-thirds of women experience sexual health problems by midlife. But in contrast to the myriad of over two dozen approved medical treatments for sexual dysfunction in men, not one medical treatment has been approved for use in women. Underlying this disparity is the complexity of female sexuality and perhaps too its historic repression.
While sexual health problems affect more women than men, they remain largely under-recognized. Lack of desire, or hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), is the most common form of female sexual dysfunction (FSD). With loss of libido, women are more prone to mood problems and relationship discordance. But how do you treat what can't be measured? Unlike erectile dysfunction in men, libido is not as easily quantified. Furthermore, the multitude of factors that contribute to sexual desire makes a "magic bullet" solution improbable.
A woman's sexuality is influenced by the level of her stress, fatigue, mood, hormones, self-esteem, vaginal health, and relationship factors. When faced with my patients' complicated sexual health concerns I take a top-to-bottom approach to help rewire their desire by starting with rebooting the sexual brain:
1. Be Present:
To be more sexual, first requires being more present. Forever the multi-taskers, women tend to be less able than men to set aside their worries and the endless mental "to-do list" and simply be in the moment. To be sexual we must be present but we also must think sexually. Clearing your mental slate prior to sex, can allow for a more mindful sexual experience.
2. Inspire Intimacy:
While sex leads to intimacy for men, the opposite is true for women. Women need intimacy in their relationships for a healthy libido. Cultivating a relationship is a labour of love, like caring for your garden, and can require advanced planning. Childless date nights, candle lit dinners, and gestures of affection are vital to restoring and building intimacy.
3. Be Sensual:
The question of pheromones has long tied our noses to our lust. Animals, plants and even bacteria release chemical signals to attract mates. While no obvious pheromone signal has yet been found in humans, new research is revealing that a signature of chemo-signals released from our bodies may subliminally sway potential partners. Variations in an important set of genes coding for immune function known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), imprints us with a unique "odourprint". These "odourprints" are believed to play a role in attracting an unlike mate to yield an evolutionary advantage in generating a more diverse and robust immune system in potential offspring.
It's not just our noses, but our taste buds too can be triggered to send sexual signals. Aphrodisiacs are substances that increase sexual desire. Chocolate, long considered an aphrodisiac, contains three psychoactive chemicals; including PEA (phelethylamine) a love chemical which releases dopamine in the pleasure centre of the brain. Other foods and herbs claimed to be aphrodisiacs include; oysters (zinc), chili peppers (capscacin), avocados and ginseng.
4. Don't forego the foreplay.
Foreplay and sexual touching play a vital role in eliciting a sexual response in women. Sexual touching is not only considered a social norm, it enables physiological and psychological readiness. Foreplay readies our bodies for sex; exciting our brains, quickening our heartbeat, and preparing the genital organs for intercourse, while also relaxing us through stimulating the release of oxytocin. But the path to the erogenous zones may not be obvious and may change over time. Couples can help each other by giving the roadmap to these special hot spots.
5. Try Something New
Repeatedly, studies have shown that the most effective way to boost libido is with a new partner. But monogamy does not need to mean monotony. Making it new and exciting with a current partner can have the same effect. And yes, you can teach an old dog some new tricks.
6. Get Help
While sexuality is too often not mentioned at the doctor's office, there is help available and more on its way. While no government approved product exists for women in North America, Testosterone therapy has been scientifically shown to help all aspects of sexual function in both women and men from libido to orgasm and improve wellbeing in post-menopausal women with low libido. Several treatments on the horizon now in late-stage clinical study combine testosterone with anti-depressants or treatments that increase blood flow to the genital regions (such as Viagra).
Sexual health concerns are common, complicated and inadequately addressed, especially in women. While a magic bullet to restore libido may never exist, the path to rewiring desire must be a top to bottom multi-faceted approach that reboots the sexual brain, restores intimacy, and when appropriate rebalances hormones.
So gear up this Valentines' day with a splash of Chanel #5, while dining with your special someone on an aphrodisiac meal of chocolate and oysters to help make this Valentine's day a night to remember!
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