Nearly 1/3 of women ages 18-59 suffer from hypoactive sexual desire disorder and only about 65% of women in heterosexual relationships experience orgasms.
Many women are taught that we have less desire for sex than our male counterparts and that’s simply not true. Outside of the sociocultural impacts on female sexuality, there are a number of physiological reasons for why women experience sexual dysfunction.
The SWAN (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation) was a multiethnic cohort study explained human female sexual function in accordance to four factors: desire, arousal, orgasm, and pain.
This study found that desire had a direct relationship with the amount of testosterone and DHEA-S (Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate) a woman has. Arousal was indirectly related to levels of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone). Orgasm was negatively related to levels of FSH and was not associated with any other hormone. Pain was positively related to levels of FSH and was not a significant factor if lubricants were involved (Randolph).
Menopause is recognized as being one of the greatest associations of sexual dysfunction in women but like the earlier statistic mentioned, about 1/3 of women under 59 can also experience sexual dysfunction. Outside of menopause the two other major factors of female sexual dysfunction are psychological/sociocultural concerns and metabolic syndrome.
Addressing psychological causes of sexual dysfunction
Anxiety and/or depression can impact our neurochemistry leading to lower levels of serotonin and dopamine which has been found to support sexual desire, arousal, and orgasms. This can lead to lower levels of testosterone and progesterone and elevated FSH levels.
Before resorting to antidepressant medications that can actually exacerbate sexual dysfunction, try these things to help support your anxiety and depression.
Find your tribe – Seek support in helping you address your stressors/circumstances from a licensed professional and a few people in your life you can trust.
Dance – in indigenous cultures when someone would come to the shaman with a mood disorder like anxiety or depression, the first question the shaman would ask was, “When did you stop dancing?” I’m going to ask you that same question and ask you to stop reading this post and….
Take a quick dance break before you move on with the rest of your day.
Positive affirmations – Here are some of my favorites. Write these down daily, speak them to yourself, or put post-its all over your room. Whatever you do make sure you’re reminded daily of your amazingness.
– I am enough
– I am strong
– I am worthy
– I am beautiful
– I love myself, respect myself and accept myself exactly as I am.
– I deserve to be happy and loved.
– I love myself and treat myself with kindness.
– I recognize the wisdom, strength, and compassion that within me.
– No success is too small to celebrate, and I revel in the tiny wins today.
Work on taking sexy back – In a recent podcast episode, I interviewed Dr. Alexandra Solomon and we talked all about female sexuality and ways women can become more empowered to get in touch with their feminine, sexual selves as she writes about in her book, Taking Sexy Back.
Addressing physiological causes of sexual dysfunction
Metabolic syndrome is the most common physiological cause of sexual dysfunction outside of menopause. Menopause is inevitable and though there are ways to transition in a healthy manner and continue having an optimal sex life after menopause, in this post I’m just going to focus on metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is the combination of multiple diseases that can increase risk of heart disease and other health issues. Conditions included are hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, PCOS, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and more. All of these conditions can impact our circulation and gut health.
Why does proper circulation matter?
When someone has poor circulation, their blood flow is limited and their blood vessels may be damaged. In women, conditions like diabetes or PCOS can lead to hardening of the blood vessels of the vaginal wall leading to decreased blood flow. Decreased blood flow can affect vaginal lubrication causing the vagina to be too dry leading to pain with sex and an inability to orgasm.
Why does gut health matter?
The gut microbiota is now identified as a determining factor in obesity and associated metabolic complications. The gut microbiota ensures several metabolic functions essential to the host and is involved in degrading polysaccharides and oligosaccharides into simple metabolites. The gut microbiota is also an indispensable source of vitamins B and K. Gut microbiota composition and diversity are subjected to important variations between individuals but also within the same individual under the influence of several physiologic and environmental factors such as antibiotic consumption, lifestyle, and diet.
Tissue inflammation and a number of different metabolic abnormalities, such as obesity and insulin resistance are all very closely related to an altered gut microbiota. An ideal gut microbiota produces SCFA to assist the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. It was found that a dysbiosis induced by obesogenic factors adversely increases intestinal permeability. In metabolic diseases, an unhealthy gut microbiota with enhanced intestinal permeability can lead to infiltration of bacterial LPS (lipopolysaccharides) from the gut lumen into intestinal epithelia, bloodstream, and tissue leading to metabolic endotoxemia. LPS is a pro-inflammatory toxin (Rial). This inflammation and gut dysbiosis can lead to an insufficiency of testosterone and an increase in inflammatory estrogens that can cause lack of vaginal lubrication and pain.
If you’ve been diagnosed with any of these conditions, then of course the solution to low sexual dysfunction is to reverse these conditions and improve gut health and circulation. If you have not been diagnosed, there may be some level of functional metabolic syndrome still present and it may time for you to get some additional lab testing with a Naturopathic doctor.
Some of my favorite tests to run with women who are experiencing sexual dysfunction include extended thyroid testing with antibodies, vitamin D, magnesium, ferritin, DHEA-S, SHBG, FSH, LH, total testosterone, progesterone, estrogen and its metabolites via DUTCH test, and a comprehensive stool panel.
If you are struggling with sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, and/or pain and would like a naturopathic approach to helping you achieve an optimal sex life, schedule a free 15 minute consult today to see if we’d be a good fit!