By Ellie Kempton
While the the intricacies of a strong libido aren't something that we openly talk about it’s a conversation worth having especially if you’ve noticed yourself asking “where did it go?”.Statistically, 32% of women over the age of 40 lose their desire to have sex. So naturally it’s time to dig into the details...
FACTORS WORKING AGAINST US:
Truth be told, the modern day lifestyle of a busy woman isn’t friendly to the human libido. Contemporary challenges to sex drive include:
It’s a somewhat cruel irony, though isn’t it? On one hand we’re living in an increasingly stressful environment that zaps libido but also living in a marketing vortex promoting erotic rendezvous any and every given moment. Does it become an act of pure will? I’m here to say no it’s not an act of the will. But let’s first look at what makes for a healthy sex drive in the first place.
WHAT IS LIBIDO?
Sex drive is a constellation of complex hormonal and psychological factors. The intricacy of hormonal communication fluctuates consistently and is dominated by the following six hormones.
Estrogen + testosterone- the two sex hormones most notably influenced by the mentstrual cycle; both rise during the first half coming to a peak at ovulation. Across the board, if estrogen creeps up too high in relation to testosterone, you might as well call it a night.
DHEA- is converted by the body into both testosterone and estrogen. If you’re noticing low peri- menopausal libido, don’t forget to check your DHEA levels. While levels of both testosterone and estrogen naturally decrease during menopause, a glimpse at their parent hormone can be telling of either current or future patterns of low libido.
Prolactin- another notable hormone in the equation [that tends to decrease libido]. Both low thyroid function and pregnancy, increase the release of prolactin thereby decreasing libido as well. Makes sense, right? You don’t want to conceive if your body’s master gland isn’t runningon full cylinders.
Dopamine + oxytocin- are the two neurochemicals that influence excitement and deeper connection. Sex therapists say ailing relationships simply need is a combination of excitement [a little dopamine kick] serves you and some extra oxytocin, built by bonding experiences such as hugging, holding hands, eye contact [all the things we savor in the “honeymoon stage” of our relationships].
Ok, so how do we influence the secretion of these hormones in a balance that serves our bedtime rituals well?
LIFESTYLE AND LIBIDO:
Before we dive into the “sea” of aphrodisiacs, let’s start with how you live your life.
Tame the stress- high levels of stress hormones have a direct and negative impact on sex hormone production [most notably testosterone]. If you’re noticing your first response when asked how you are doing is “busy” chances are high stress has been normalized. One of the best ways to bring back desire is to indulge in meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and any other activity that tells your body you’re not in danger. The last thing your biology wants is to reproduce when it feels threatened.
Exercise. But not too much! When you first experience the benefits of exercise, it’s tempting to believe more is better. Temper the urge to be a gym rat and instead hone in on strength based activities for short and intense sessions. Research has found that just 20 minutes of resistance training boosts testosterone and subsequently desire.
THE DEEP “SEA" OF APHRODISIACS:
Now let’s take a detour to the “ intersection" of diet and sex drive. Unfortunately, the mysterious and erotic powers of the most popular aphrodisiacs have more to do with the placebo of ambiance than anything but there are foods containing nutrients which have been shown to boost the production of sex hormones. And you’ll be delighted to know they are a rare delicacy in and of themselves.
Figs - nutritionally, figs give your sex drive a "one-two punch.” They contain magnesium, a mineral needed to produce both testosterone and estrogen as well as, the amino acid L-arginine, an amino acid that increases the production of nitric oxide, important for expanding blood vessels and increasing blood flow to... everywhere.
Try adding sliced fresh or dry figs to your morning yogurt or a salad.
Ginseng- commonly referred to as Euthero, ginseng has continuously proven itself to be one of the most powerful punches of support for testosterone production, which of course explains why it has historically been utilized to treat sexual dysfunction in traditional Chinese Medicine.
Swap a cup of coffee for a cup of hot or iced ginseng tea. Less caffeine and just as much energy!
Blackberries- the seeds on this summertime beauty are bursting at the seams with photo- chemicals that have been shown to enhance sexual endurance due mostly to the high levels of vitamin C.
Pop blackberries into everything from your morning smoothie to your evening salad.
Broccoli- while not as glamorous, florets of broccoli contain indole-3-carbonil, which has been shown to reduce estrogen levels. If your labs indicate estrogen dominance, especially in relation to testosterone, eat those trees!
Roast a batch at the beginning of the week and you might just find it’s a go-to in the fridge when you feel a snack attack coming on.
Cacao- women have relied on this tropical treat for ages and for good reason! Cacao encourages the release of endorphins that increase pleasure, improve mood, and simulate the feelings of falling in love.
Instead of leaning on sugar-laden chocolate bars, opt for raw cacao nibs. Sprinkle them in your next batch of granola, munch on them with some trail mix, use in a salad instead of nuts or simply enjoy them plain.
Maca- while not a traditional food, maca is a Peruvian root that has long been historically used to increase strength, stamina, energy, fertility, and libido both men and women. You will most likely find it in powdered form. Start with 500 mg per day always under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
Add 1 tsp to your smoothies or any drink, of choice, which mitigates it’s natural bitter flavor profile.
A strong libido is something to be celebrated daily. Not only is sex a powerful conduit to wellness, it also is a brilliant reflection of hormonal vitality. Don’t ignore the nudges your body is giving you that it needs some attention. Instead seize the opportunity to weave elements of lifestyle design and targeted foods into your day to harness the energy of a strong libido.
Ellie Kempton, MSN, RDN