Believe it or not, sexual health is a critical component of our general health and wellness. When things go wrong in the bedroom, we need to take notice. I tell my patients to make sex a priority. However, when issues or problems arise in the sexual area – be it vaginal dryness, a drop in libido, even decrease in intensity of orgasm – it can be a heralding sign that things are out of balance. It may even suggest a medical problem.
The same medical causes for erectile dysfunction in men (which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, coronary artery disease, diabetes, stress and medications) are also common culprits for sexual dysfunction in women. The signs and symptoms for these conditions can go undetected, at least initially, and patients frequently present to me with sexual function complaints. It is for this reason that I advocate that all health care professionals include a sexual health assessment with their full history and physical exam.
Things we can do to maintain our sexual health are really simple. I tell my female patients to "use it or lose it." The more sexually active women are in their later reproductive years, the more blood flow there is to the genital area which in turn translates to more lubrication AND more elasticity of the vaginal tissue. So, as our hormone levels fluctuate during perimenopause and begin to decrease during menopause, it is important to keep the blood flow flowing, ladies!
Diet and exercise are really helpful for cardiovascular health, as well as sexual health. I recommend at least 15 minutes of cardiovascular activity a day. Getting the heart rate and respiratory rate up increase blood flow throughout our bodies and endorphins, and the hormone testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) are released during exercise. These two hormones are really potent libido boosters and also enhance arousal and orgasm.
There is also research that shows that some foods containing combinations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can affect hormone levels, help to balance mood, and increase energy levels. While research is limited on the aphrodisiac properties of some of these foods, it certainly can't hurt to whip out these healthy foods when you're planning your next date-night dishes. For example, avocado is a super food, loaded with minerals, monounsaturated oils, vitamin B6, zinc and a host of antioxidants, all of which potentially help to boost one's sexual energy and libido. Red wine is also a potent source for Resveratrol, a plant derived estrogen, which has both antioxidant properties and dopamine boosting effect. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that is important for libido, as well as arousal and orgasm. And finally, for chocolate lovers, the truth is, the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate are thought to be linked to two chemicals it contains: tryptophan, which forms serotonin, a chemical involved in sexual arousal, and phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine that is released in the brain when people fall in love.
Finally, I always recommend products to my patients. My personal favorite lube this month is hands down the Poise Lubricant. Patients continue to report this product is long-lasting and easy to use, and it enhances the intimate experience. I will keep you posted. My personal fave toy of the month is the Screaming O®. It’s a product that can be used by the couple to enhance orgasm, fun and intimacy!