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I love how we women always want more – that energy of desire for change creates everything. It brings you here and will use what you learn to take steps forward. This blog is a holistic view of restoring and maintaining your sex drive. It isn’t just about being able to have an orgasm. It’s about being able to have enough energy to enjoy your life. This starts with expanding your understanding of our sexual response beyond what you see from magazines and pornography.
When you look at many women’s assumptions about what their sexual experience should be like, it’s less expansive than it actually is. These assumptions reflect a lack of understanding about what the sexual response is and how it works – that a women’s body should perform in a certain way every single day throughout her life, which is a static view. We are going to put some of these misconceptions to rest.
Before we dive in, I want to say that this information applies no matter what relationship you’re in, or not in. This is about you and your enjoyment with your body. You can enjoy being with someone elses body only if you’ve been practicing how to enjoy being in your own. There is a big distinction, because women look at sex as a way to please our partners. But if you want to have a healthy libido (and not just a libido used for sex) you won’t be thinking about pleasing anyone but yourself. Everyone will have a richer experience because of that. You play a huge role and responsible in how you experience your sex drive.
Before we discuss the reasons that libido takes a nosedive, I want to create a framework for each of us exploring what is a normal libido for ourselves because our culture is known to be highly sexualized and telling us how we are supposed to feel and act during sex. So, we need to know what actually feels right for ourselves.
There are many factors and we can’t cover everything today but I want to highlight that libido changes with our life cycle, our monthly cycle, medications that we are taking including birth control, never really recovering from pregnancy and much more. Also, women believe that once they are having sex, they think they should be able to orgasm easily and if they don’t climax at a culturally instilled appropriate time then they feel they disappointed their partner. So we shift our attention on our partner’s pleasure, abandoning our own. And let me tell you, when you focus only on your pleasure, it’s so much more of a turn on for him.
Libido is on a spectrum. I think the perception of what is considered a normal/high/low libido is heavily influenced by the culture we live in. I think some cultures are more sexual than others. Would you agree?
This can impact the way we expect and feel shame or pleasure from sexual responses and other factors. That is why we have to decide what is normal for ourselves. Minus any hormonal imbalances that could be causing problems. Because there are a whole bunch of people telling us what is normal and what is not.
For me, my libido changes throughout the cycle and when my DHEA, estrogen and testosterone is on the higher level then my sex drive is noticeably more dominant in my daily lifestyle. I have more vitality, creativity and I feel really grounded and embodied. My self expression is also on a spectrum, one moment I love to move slow and sensual and feel myself in this way. Another moment, I’m highly expressive in sharing ideas and flirting with everyone which is a ton of fun. Other times, I want to put that energy into putting new ideas that usually came from the first week of my period into a creative construct.
I also think libido changes throughout our life cycle. Libido is typically higher in our teens and 20s (from a purely physiological standpoint) than it is our 30’s and 40’s.
If someone takes the pill then they usually have lower levels of DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone. This can mess up the libido.
Assignment to do with a friend or alone
We are going to choose a partner and everyone spend 5 minutes to discuss how you feel when you feel that aliveness. Many of us are or were recently on birth control or this is a new way to think about sexuality so think back to your childhood and when you felt this flirty turn out and vitality without cultural expectations.
Turning Yourself On
Another viewpoint of libido is the ability to give and receive pleasure, enjoyment and acknowledgement. In order for you to feel turned on in the bedroom, you need to feel turned on in your daily life. By pleasure, I mean pleasing your senses all day. It’s challenging to fully surrender to pleasure during sex if the pleasure in your life is dry. If you are overextended, tired or burned out. Your energy and libido is directly related. As we talked about a second ago, it begins with your frame of mind. You don’t have to change anything of what you need to do, but only alter only your approach to what you’re already doing. It’s a more vitality mind-set. How can you find enjoyment in every day things and interactions within yourself? The focus is on your pleasure no matter the external circumstances.
Enhancing the quality of each day is about cultivating beauty and pleasure in your daily life. These tiny shifts can cause of significant transformation in how you live your life and how you experience your libido in mundane activities. When you come home and have to answer tons of email. Instead of putting your nose to the grind, and feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Put some music, change to something comfortable, have some tea and put some candles on. Every time you experience pleasure in your day, your neurochemicals that we spoke about before will be affected and you will infuse your libido with more vitality and relaxation. Give yourself a multisensory experience by finding the pleasure in the moment not only in the end result. You will find yourself more relaxed and happy. You will be able to give and receive pleasure from a more authentic place. Women don’t feel comfortable receiving. If we can’t receive in social situations then it’s more likely we can have some challenges to receive and let go with our clothes off. Receiving is part of feeling full and us women really need to feel full.
Come back to your partner. Lay down. For 2 minutes we will receive touch. The giver will stroke your arm. Moving slowly. The giver will be feeling and enjoying this touch. This touching is for you and your pleasure. The receiving will relax and feel the touch, observe each moment how it feels – being mindful.
At the end: say thank you. Describe the physical sensation. No story or emotion.
YOUR BRAIN ON SEX
Lets take a look at how sex hormones affect libido, and some of the causes of low sex drive.
When estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are out of balance, you lack the ideal ratio of neurochemicals essential for robust sexual response. For decades, scientists believed that testosterone was the controller of sex drive but now they are learning that estrogen and progesterone play a huge role too.
1. Testosterone is a sex hormone that effects libido and necessary for a normal sex drive for men and women. Women’s adrenal glands and ovaries produce testosterone by converting DHEA, DHEA-S and androstenedione into testosterone. To experience normal sexual desire, arousal and orgasm, Testosterone levels should have a balance, of not being too high or too low. Low and high testosterone levels can cause low libido and difficulty achieving orgasm. High testosterone is associate with an increase in aggressiveness and anger. Also, some women report a preference of masturbating rather than intercourse.
2. Estrogen keeps the vulva and vagina lubricated and elastic. It keeps the clitoris sensitive. Estrogen is linked to clitoral stimulation while testosterone is linked to sexual desire. An important factor is that too much estrogen can block testosterone so there needs to be a balance between estrogen and testosterone. Estrogen dominance is a leading cause of low sex drive.
3. Progesterone is a feel-good sex hormone that helps women feel relaxed and vital. It impacts sleep, sexual desire, mindfulness and mood. This can be a catalyst for how you feel about your relationships. When progesterone is low then your mood is low, it effects your sleep and harder to keep your cool.
Since our hormones are cyclical and the concentrations vary throughout our menstrual cycle, sex doesn’t feel the same each and every time for women as it does more typically for men. You’re hardwired to have an abundance of experiences. She cTncentrations of hormones in each phase determines your sexual response, this includes both mental urge and physical ability to be aroused. In addition to the three hormones I mentioned, your libido is also governed by 4 groups of neurochemicals, which are neurotransmitters that target the pleasure areas of your brain.
1. Serotonin and Dopamine target the feel-good regions of your brain. They boost your experience of pleasure and then have you want to do it over and over again. This is why certain antidepressant medications such as SSRIs dampen sex drive. They block serotonin’s ability to bind with receptors in the brain. When serotonin levels are lower than normal then we become obsessive and angst when we meet a new guy and fall in love. When serotonin is high then we have a sense of satiety and it can be hard to climax. SSRI creates artificial high serotonin levels so it decreases impulsivity and dopamine levels. Oral contraceptives have the same effect – dampening dopamine and increasing serotonin so it’s not helpful when dating and your libido.
2. Sexual activity increases nitric oxide release, which causes the blood vessels to relax enabling blood to flow more efficiently through them. This causes sex organs to become more engorged. This can increase oxygenation to your heart and brain and lower blood pressure.
3. Oxytocin is released which is a bonding hormone that can make you feel more connected to your partner, leads to desire and facilitates climax.
4. Sex can decrease cortisol levels because experiencing orgasm is like a cortisol flush - getting it out of your system. But too much cortisol in the body can decrease arousal so it’s crucial to control cortisol levels. Cortisol curbs all bodily functions that are not essential to your survival when you are under threat.
Now that you know the hormones and neurochemicals involves with libido, you can depend on them as a baseline for each stage of your menstrual cycle.
This last usually 2 weeks right after menses. When you get your period, the levels of estrogen, testosterone and progesterone start at their lowest point in your cycle and then increase towards ovulation. You can have a low sex drive, dependent where you are. When your hormones are at a low, you need to put more attention in the arousal stage of your sexual response. This will assist in bringing your physical sensations such as lubrication and mental desire for sex. In the follicular phase we are open to try new things, so experiment with foreplay in the bedroom with touching, massaging and nonpenetrating foreplay. Research more about your own pleasure with using your sensations. Try new creams and take your time to put it on. Observe how it feels for you. Take more time eating and decorating your plate. Enjoy your sensual sensations to keep you in your pleasure.
In ovulation, you are most fertile and don’t need much help with stimulation to feel aroused. Your body is primed to crave and seek out sex. The cervical secretion in this phase keeps you lubricated which is different from sex related secretion so in this phase you can move from arousal to plateau phase more effortlessly. Since you have more desire for sex and the naturally high energy from the hormonal surge, it’s time to have more passionate intense sex. It’s also a great time to focus on creative ideas for your projects.
Other important things happens midcycle. Oxytocin peaks, which also increases rates of orgasm and wanting to bond with another.
What happens when you are on oral contraceptives and in the fertile stage? Since the hormones are static, there is no midcycle peak in oxytocin to push bonding and orgasm. Additionally, there is no serge in estrogen and testosterone to stroke our desire and creativity. Our brains also think that we are pregnant at this time so women on the pill act like women that are pregnant so the focus to attract someone for sex and reproducing is not as vital. A research study has shown that women on the pill show weaker or no preference for facial and vocal masculinity.
In the first half which is usually a week after ovulation, testosterone is steady from the ovulatory phase. However, estrogen and progesterone climb to their peak. in this first half, you still could feel hot and ready for sex, but you might need more stimulation to climax when you want to orgasm. In the second half which is a weak before menstruation, testosterone, progesterone and estrogen dips. At this time, you might not feel in the mood for sex. Instead, look for ways to initiate arousal. New experience can trigger dopamine in the brain and dopamine can trigger testosterone release. Also, when you focus on just feeling turned on, then you will feel juicier. Once you get going, some of the brain changes will kick in and before you know it, you’ll feel more in your center and pleasure.
Hormones are at there lowest levels. If you have a shorter cycle and bleed heavily the first few days then your hormones immediately are at their lowest point. If you have a longer cycle with spotting in the beginning, estrogen may be a little higher and progesterone lower in the beginning of your period before dropping off so you might feel more symptomatic.
For women with symptomatic cycles, the unbalanced hormones might make you feel uninterested in sex. It’s okay to abstain from sex for a few days just as it is to take a break from other physical activities. If you have yeast infections or urinary tract infections, you may always want to stay away from sex when you have your period. The low pH levels in your vagina at this time can make you more susceptible to bacteria. For women that sex relieves menstrual cramps, migraines and enjoy the different sensations they feel during sex then enjoy.
REASONS FOR LOW LIBIDO
1. Birth Control and Libido
Birth control decreases circulating testosterone and cause estrogen dominance. Birth control pills are the leading cause of estrogen dominance in women because they contain a synthetic estrogen that prevents the body from producing its own estrogen. We already mentioned that when estrogen is high it will cause testosterone to be low in ratio.
Additionally, birth control increasing SHBG sex hormone binding globulin. SHBG binds to testosterone so it becomes unavailable for use by the body. When SHBG goes up, then active testosterone will go down. It can take up to 6 months and sometimes longer, for the body to normalize SHBG levels after stopping birth control and impact the libido.
There are physical and emotional reasons related to stress that can bring libido down. When the body overproduces cortisol, which is does in our societies chronic state of stress, this interferes with sex hormone production and balance. Oxytocin release during sexual activity (with self or another or just being in your pleasure on a daily basis) can flush out increased cortisol.
3. Systemic inflammation
When we have inflammation throughout the body then your body puts it’s priority on healing rather than reproduction. It does this because if your body is in poor health then you can’t have a healthy pregnancy. Thus, your body wants to conserve energy so your sex drive will go down.
Additionally, cortisol increases when inflammation is in the body, which effects the production of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Additionally, excessive cortisol will directly decrease the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. This leads to low libido and results in depression and anxiety.
Inflammation usually involves leaky gut. If you have hormone issues then you have a leaky gut. The gut releases lipopolysaccharides which have a direct and toxic effect that causes brain fog, tiredness and low libido.
Cleansing and balancing your hormones begins with gut health, sugar balance, nutrients, and much more. It’s bio-individual which is how I work individually with women.
A great way to start at home is to reduce dairy, wheat, ---- from your diet for 2 weeks or more, dependent on your symptoms and then slowly introduce those foods to see how your body reacts. In addition, start adding bone broth which is healing to the gut lining, and prebiotic foods which go directly to the colon and becomes food for your intestine to strengthen the lining.
4. Eating fat is key
The body feels like it is starving when we have low body fat, over-exercise or eat low fat diets. When it’s in this stressed out zone, then your body doesn’t want to have sex. Its priority is survival and conserving energy, not reproduction.
a) When the body fat is below 15% then sex hormone production decreases, especially testosterone. This occurs because cholesterol is broken down from fat. Cholesterol is the backbone of all sex hormones. You need body fat to produce sex hormones.
b) We need about 30grams of fat a day to produce an optimal range of sex hormones.
c) When we over-exercise then our body fat levels can become low. Also, over-exercising causes stress on the body which increases cortisol levels so it keeps the body from producing enough sex hormones.
5. There are some medical conditions that are linked to low libido.
There are many medications and medical conditions which can take time to discuss. Today, we will mention PCOS. PCOS is associated with high levels of testosterone, low progesterone and insulin resistance. The high levels of testosterone can create a challenge in achieving arousal and orgasm. Sometimes, it can cause decreasing sensation and ability to lubricate and have an orgasm because estrogen can be decreased.
6. As women approach menopause, sex drive can also decrease.
This is due to low estrogen which is associated with decreased clitoral sensitivity, dryness and less blood flow to the vagina.
7. After a baby, you may be nursing for an extended period of time so your sex drive might be minimal. Prolactin levels are up which suppresses testosterone section. Also, when nursing women have less vaginal lubrication due to less estrogen levels. Most importantly, you may not be ovulating yet so you don’t have these surge of sex hormones. When your period comes back then your libido will come back too. Mothers of young children can also have an increase of oxytocin which is the cuddle hormone, which decreases testosterone. Also, married women have less testosterone than single women. You get it. Oxytocin up, testosterone down. More warmth and cuddles and security, then less testosterone.
8. I do want to mention, if your libido is low then you might want to have your thyroid checked. Now, doctors just measure TSH but that isn’t informing you of your hormones. You need to have T3 and T4 checked as well. This is an entire lecture on its own so I can’t go into it now but keep it in the back of your mind.
Foods to Boost Libido. The focus is to have foods that decrease inflammation, improve vascular tone and are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients.
1. Almonds, brazil nuts and pine nuts contain zinc and selenium. This helps reduce inflammation and improve circulation and provide a lot of energy.
2. Pomegranates raise testosterone and are loaded with antioxidants that improve blood circulation. The increased blood flow at the vaginal wall can enhance lubrication.
3. Watermelon also helps relax the blood vessels and might have an affect on libido.
4. Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, antioxidants and B vitamins. Magnesium is essential to the production of sex hormones. B vitamins and antioxidants helps the body decrease inflammation and improve circulation. Dark raw chocolate has a compound called phenylethylamine which triggers the same endorphins that are produced from having sex.
5. Asparagus is b vitamins and in particular folate that aids in increasing the production of histamines. Histamines is a vital part of inflammation in your body so it is important for libido.
6. Coconut water contains the same electrolytes as your blood so it can improve blood flow and possibly increase your libido.
7. Avocado contains b6, folic acid, potassium and essential fatty acids and antioxidants. This increases blood flow and is a building block for sex hormone production.
8. Nuts, seeds and omega-3 rich fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel are also fats that help build healthy sex hormones.
I want to end with emphasizing sleep! Most of my clients were certainly not getting enough sleep but it’s a huge game changer. It is essential for libido and hormonal health. Sleep keeps your body in line with your bodies natural detoxification system and circadian cycle that controls the natural daily ups and downs of each cycle. Tips for a restful sleep that will balance your hormones is removing anything that emits light such as TV, phone and other electronics. If you can, have a comfortable mattress, you can diffuse essential oils such as ylang ylang or neroli. And candles which set a relaxing and sensual mood.