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Sexual health is an exceedingly personal topic, and talking about it —even with a doctor—is something many people have difficulty with. This is especially true for older adults. According to a survey of over 3,000 men and women aged 57–85 published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers discovered that even though nearly half reported at least one bothersome sexual problem, ranging from low desire to lubrication issues and erectile dysfunction (ED), only 38 percent of men and 22 percent of women reported having discussed it with their doctors.
But sexual health isn’t only an issue for those in their golden years. Truth is,
from time to time, anyone can experience a flagging libido or diminished intimacy.
Fortunately there are a variety of natural solutions that can help you get your groove back by improving a range of issues related to sexual health.
Chris Kilham, a Boston-based author, professor of ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and self-professed “Medicine Hunter,” strongly advocates the use of natural products over pharmaceuticals when it comes to improving sexual function. “We’re a drug culture and we’ve been educated to believe it’s only the drugs that work, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he says with a nod to the growing volumes of published studies that continue to corroborate the benefits of plant-based medicine. “Enhancing sex drive and sexual function with botanicals can happen in a variety of ways—through improved circulation and nerve activity, hormonal regulation, or physically stimulating the urinary tract. This is a different time in history for plant medicines, and there are lots of ways to go about it.”
It may sound cliché, but the number one love potion on Kilham’s list when it comes to enhancing intimacy is chocolate. “There’s a reason chocolate is a gift between lovers,” he says, explaining that chocolate essentially reproduces the brain chemistry of falling in love, thanks to its ability to stimulate the amount of phenethylamine in the brain. “Cocoa is number one in terms of healthy foods [and] chocolate and unrefined cocoa provide this most significantly protective and healthy substance, even more than green tea and wine.”
Botanical Sex Enhancers
Beyond the realm of chocolate, there are many other supplements historically renowned for their broad-spectrum effects on sexual function.
Maca���One of the most highly regarded libido boosters, maca is a starchy, potato-like tuber from the Peruvian Andes that’s rich in plant sterols and a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium and calcium. Though it’s typically sold in pill form (such as Macabido Men’s Formula from Bricker Labs), maca has been used as a primary food staple and medicinal treatment for menopausal discomfort, infertility, and sexual healing for millions of Peruvians for well over 2,000 years. Kilham says it’s a profound sex-drive-stimulating agent, and while its efficacy is backed by multiple studies, researchers still aren’t sure how it works. “It appears to work in the sex centers of the brain, but it doesn’t change hormone levels,” he says. “Post-menopausal women actually wind up, in many cases, lubricating and experiencing pleasurable intercourse as a result of taking maca.”
Tongkat Ali—A tree root hailing from both Malaysia and Indonesia, Tongkat Ali has earned a reputation for being a powerful overall hormone regulator that stimulates sex drive by improving the production of testosterone in both men and women, and boosting progesterone production in women. “We know that in human studies it significantly improves erectile function in men,” Kilham says. “Because it stimulates the body’s own natural production of testosterone without actually containing testosterone, it also has a very positive effect on skin health and elasticity and on muscle tone.”
Horny Goat Weed—Horny goat weed has held a place in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years because of its effect on low libido and ED, among other conditions. Interestingly, the herb’s effect on ED prompted authors of a 2008 study by the American Chemical Society to suggest that it could be a natural Viagra because of its ability to block the effects of an enzyme that restricts blood flow to the penis.
Ashwagandha—An Ayurvedic herb, ashwagandha is part of the adaptogen family of botanicals that includes schizandra and Siberean ginseng, both of which are linked to increased energy, stamina, endurance, and mental alertness. Kilham says ashwagandha is also a revered sexual-health enhancer in its own right. “In India, if you’re a woman and you go to a doctor, you’re going to be given ashwagandha and told to take it regularly if you’re at a fertile age because it very significantly enhances overall sexual and reproductive health,” he says.
Rhodiola Rosea—Kilham is a big advocate of this traditional Eastern European and Asian plant, calling it one of the most beneficial botanicals of any type in any category. Like the aforementioned supplements, rhodiola is probably better known for its other research-confirmed benefits related to its effects on brain health and physical/mental endurance; however, Kilham points to two Russian human clinical studies to confirm its sexual health benefits too. “Among 40 women who suffered amenorrhea (loss of menses), daily administration of rhodiola extract for two weeks restored menses [and also enabled pregnancy in eleven of the women],” he says, adding that the benefits aren’t limited to women. “Among 35 men with ED, 26 experienced significantly improved sexual function as a result of taking rhodiola extract for three months.”
In addition to oral supplements, intimacy can also be enhanced with the help of topical lubricants. Some water-based formulations also include the addition of natural aloe vera, vitamin E, niacin, and even tingly extracts of menthol and cinnamon to help increase the comfort of intercourse and add to a couple’s overall sensory experience.
Sex, Love, and Yoga
5 Principles to Sustain a Healthy, Intimate Relationship
Travis Eliot, yoga teacher and creator of The Ultimate Yogi DVD, puts a lot of credence in the ancient principles of yoga to strengthen romantic relationships. Below are his top five tips for helping couples find inner peace, happiness, and ultimate intimacy together.
Non-harming (ahimsa): Intimate relationships will always present certain challenges and frustrations that can trigger harmful, reactive behavior. Be mindful of heated moments and practice mindful compassion in your thoughts, words and actions. Take a deep breath, step back, and align with a perspective for the good of all involved.
Truthfulness (satya): Truth leads to a deep quality of strength and integrity within a relationship. Honesty requires courage and is not always comfortable. Risk being honest over being comfortable to help elevate the relationship’s foundation of trust and goodness.
Non-stealing (asteya): In today’s hectic-paced life, quality time together is more precious than ever. Non-stealing is about being fully present with your partner. Turn off distracting cellphones and computers in and out of the bedroom to keep your quality time sacred.
Continence (brahmacharaya): Continence (or celibacy) can help refocus a deeper respect for sexual intimacy. As a couple, create an intention around making love so that sexual intimacy becomes a powerful, beautiful and transcendent form of communication within your relationship.
Non-hoarding (aparigraha): It’s important to give your partner a balanced amount of space to grow as a human being. Non-hoarding encourages the trust and faith that space is a safe thing to create for each other within a relationship.
Joanna Cosgrove has been has been covering the dynamic facets of the health and wellness industry for more than 15 years.
BRICKER LABS Macabido Men’s Formula naturally enhances libido and energy with maca and a targeted blend of other herbs.
DREAMBRANDS The Natural Moisturizing Lubricant uses carrageenan, aloe vera, and vitamin E in a water-based formula that’s free of parabens and glycerin.
IRWIN NATURALS Steel-Libido is formulated with ashwagandha, horny goat weed, maca, and other sex enhancers.
ORGANIC INDIA Ashwagandha is certified organic, and delivers a pure, potent dose of this time-proven herb for sexual health.
PROLAB NUTRITION Horny Goat Weed enhances vascularity, energy, and libido to naturally amplify performance.