While nearing the holiday that celebrates romantic love, I am reminded of the many ways corporations and media exploit these powerful feelings to drive sales: Victoria’s Secret. Penis pills. “Every Kiss begins with Kay (jewelers).” Fifty Shades of Grey. “Magic Mike 2”. The ever impressive stacks of “bodice ripper” romance novelettes in the used books bin of my grocery store. Screaming, bold-font headlines of checkout aisle magazines seem to suggest otherwise (Cheated!Pregnant!Hottest Beach Bodies!), but loss of libido is a relatively common concern for women (and men), and it is important to identify the potential root cause(s) or aggravating factors within the context of one’s overall health.
When I was a naturopathic medical student completing my preceptorships with practicing doctors, I remember feeling shocked by how many trial packages of Viagra were given out to patients in one oncologist’s office. There were always one or two drug reps from various companies waiting for him at any given point, and the office had a large closet stuffed full of free samples. What’s with all the Viagra, in an oncology practice?? He told me that many of his patients ask for this, and that it is a great opportunity to examine their cardiovascular health, as this is a major cause of sexual dysfunction in men.
For the purposes of this article, I want to now focus on a few common causes of loss of libido in women, because it is often not discussed openly anywhere else:
“It hurts.” Changes in hormones during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal years reduces lubrication, thickness and pliability of vaginal tissues. Using a lubricant that is water-based, and free of harsh chemicals during sex can promote more comfortable glide.They also help prevent urinary tract infections by protecting the urethra from mechanical irritation. Using a daily vaginal personal moisturizer with vitamin E is also recommended (this may be used in lieu of a separate lubricant- but it may not give the same “slip” factor), as a means to keep delicate tissues supple and comfortable. Surprisingly, I still encounter women who are prescribed conventional hormone replacement therapies (HRT), even though this has been conclusively shown to increase the risk of stroke and heart disease in well-defined, large studies. Naturopathic doctors are often able to help their patients ease these problems with careful supplementation and botanical medicine. For those who need a little more support, prescribing very small doses of bio-identical hormones to be applied topically directly to vaginal tissues is usually enough to improve tissue flexibility, thickness and lubrication, without the significant increase in systemic serum hormones seen in more conventional dosing regimens.
“I’m too tired.” Lack of sleep, being too busy, having low iron, thyroid problems and heart disease can all cause problems here. Your doctor can help investigate whether there is a treatable medical condition contributing to your loss of libido. Meditation techniques can help alleviate stress responses that sap energy. Another common cause, especially for new moms, is feeling “touched out.” Sleep deprivation combined with having another human being constantly attached to your body and literally sucking the life out of you, can throw sex pretty low on the priority scale. This has to be an evolved reaction- a survival technique to help block another pregnancy from happening too soon. Time, sleep, and having some babysitting breaks might help get through the sexual desert faster.
“I’d rather just read my book.” Sometimes, health and functions are fine, but the interest just isn’t there. It can be that things have simply gone into a rut. One of the ways to combat this is to do something different together, and it doesn’t have to be sexual. Trying a new adventure, activity or interest together can be enough to jazz up more interest. Feeling warm and comfortable also helps; a study led by Gert Holstege from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands found that warming feet (by wearing socks) increased rate or female orgasm to 80% of participants, up from 50%! Certain medications, such as antidepressants, can also reduce libido as a common side effect. This is often a big reason that naturopathic patients are seeking alternatives to continuing with their antidepressant medications. Physical contact through dance, or massage, can be another great way to feel closer again. Essential oils such as ylang ylang, rose and cinnamon can add sultry scents to massage oil to help the mood, but it is really all about what scents appeal to each person- whether it’s floral, vanilla, bacon, or “new car smell” (why yes, that really exists as a product!) And when an extra boost is desired, a small dose of bio-identical hormones applied topically can add the extra, “Va-va-voom.” Sharing intimacy with a cherished partner can happen in many ways over the years, and change is OK. It does not necessarily mean that there is a problem if you don’t feel like you did in your 20’s anymore, or feel exactly as you did during the early courtship days of your relationship. But keeping the lines of communication open and supporting each other is key. Don’t forget the vaginal moisturizer and/or lubricant.
And there’s always “Fifty Shades of Grey.”*
*(The author has never actually read or seen, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but social media contacts seem to like this one. 😉
Cora Rivard, N.D.