Healthy sexuality is not just a good idea; it’s actually good for your health.
In America alone, 40 million women experience sexual dysfunction. Problems can range from a low sexual desire to problems with arousal, to problems achieving orgasm. These problems can begin or worsen during and after perimenopause and menopause.
Medical illnesses, lack of sleep, and stress may be part of the problem. If sexual dysfunction is due to psychological issues then counseling can be very helpful. Also, treating underlying physical conditions – such as lack of vaginal estrogen – can often help. While depression can cause or worsen these symptoms, medications that treat depression can also cause or worsen this dysfunction (a classic case of the treatment making the situation worse!)
Now, besides the fact that sex perpetuates the species, good sex has quite a few health benefits, for both women and men:
1. Sex protects our health.
For both men and women, studies show that sexual activity has a protective effect on our health. In men, studies have shown a 50% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular mortality in men having frequent sex, as compared to the men in the study having the least frequency of sex. Studies also confirm similar findings in women, especially regarding orgasms.
2. Erectile function is a good indicator of overall cardiovascular health in men.
The same things that damage the blood vessels of the heart can damage the penile blood vessels. In a report from 2005, a panel of experts made a recommendation that all men 25 years old or older should be asked about erectile dysfunction, regardless of whether they mention it to their doctors because it is an early marker for cardiovascular disease.
3. Sex reduces stress.
Research started by Kinsey in the 1940’s shows that people with fulfilling sex lives experience less anxiety and tend to be less violent or hostile. Sex causes the release of oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine, all of which are hormones that increase positive feelings of attachment, affection, and closeness.
4. Oxytocin is good for us.
Sexual activity and especially orgasm (and also breastfeeding) cause the release of the hormone oxytocin, which gives a wide range of health benefits, including:
- Better mood
- Lower cortisol
- Lower blood pressure
- Glowing skin
- May even protect against several hormone-mediated cancers.
Because of oxytocin, healthy sexual encounters cause dilation of blood vessels all over the body, which in turn improves blood flow to many body organs including the brain.
In women, DHEA is the hormone mainly responsible for sexual desire. This is partly because after DHEA is made by the adrenal glands, it is metabolized in the body into estrogen and testosterone. Levels of DHEA peak around 25 to 30 years of age and then gradually decline as we get older. Fortunately, this hormone is easy to measure with a blood test – DHEA-sulfate is the test that should be ordered by your doctor. An optimal level for a woman in her 40’s is above 200.
Low DHEA can be increased with an oral supplement which is available over-the-counter or by prescription through a compounding pharmacy. Depending on the DHEA product, the dose for women will usually range from 5 mg to 25 mg each morning (some women benefit from higher doses). The benefits of DHEA can include increased feeling of energy, well-being, and libido. Side effects to look out for include masculinizing effects such as excess facial hair growth, irritability, and acne. Men usually benefit from doses starting at 25 to 50 mg daily. Testosterone supplementation for women is also an option that can be prescribed by doctors familiar with bio-identical hormone therapy.
The important message here is that sexual dysfunction is not something to tolerate!
If your libido is low and it’s an issue in your life, get it checked out. There is a lot that can be done, and it could save your life.
If your sex drive is good, then for Valentine’s Day don’t battle the crowds at the restaurants. Just stay in bed with your honey and improve your health.