For centuries, alchemists have searched for the ultimate sexual elixir, but the search has become more desperate and, for some, a necessity. It is not, however, a simple matter of taking a magic potion. There are insidious things going on in our lifestyles and environment that are undermining our desire to do it. Of course, past experiences, lack of communication, insecurity and other emotional triggers can interfere with the ability to want sex and get aroused. But those aside, after the initial flush of excitement with a new partner – which bars all obstacles to having sex such as the legendary headache or tiredness – you may be wise to take some steps to keep up your drive.
The feminisation of nature
Aside from fancying someone, sex drive is largely dictated by hormones. Over the last 50 years, there’s been an undeniable escalation in hormone-related problems such as infertility, breast and prostate cancers and an array of hormonal imbalances, particularly in women.
The incidence of baby boys being born with genital defects and undescended testes has doubled. In her ground-breaking book The Feminisation of Nature, Deborah Cadbury demonstrates how a growing number of commonly-occurring chemicals found in the air, water and food are disrupting hormone balances and altering the course of nature. Many leading scientists have come to the same conclusion. “We have unwittingly entered the ultimate Faustian bargain… In return for all the benefits of our modern society, and all the amazing products of modern life, we have more testicular cancer and more breast cancer. We may also affect the ability of the species to reproduce,” says Devra Lee Davis, former deputy health policy adviser to the US Government. Although we’re not actually talking about cancers and genital defects here, similar processes of hormone imbalance are behind a drop in sex drive.
The chemicals referred to are oestrogen-like compounds found in pesticides, plastics, household cleaning products, industrial pollutants and pharmaceutical drugs. These hormone disruptors mimic the role played by oestrogen in the body, messing up the normal hormone production and messaging that contributes to sex drive. When men are exposed to high amounts of such so-called xeno-oestrogens, they can develop female characteristics such as breast growth. At the same time, they affect sex drive and other particularly male characteristics such as muscular strength and development. In other words xeno-oestrogens can interfere with the role of the male hormone testosterone in the body. Women produce testosterone too, in smaller amounts in the adrenals and ovaries.
Studies have shown that giving women testosterone implants raises their sex drive – with significant improvements in sexual desire, fantasy and response and a decrease in painful sex due to lack of excitement and lubrication.
Stress – the libido killer
Xeno-oestrogens are not the only factor in decreasing testosterone and sex drive. Rather than looking at adding testosterone (which may be more useful in women who have had hysterectomies or after menopause), it’s useful to look at why testosterone levels – in both men and women – may be down. Stress appears to be a major contributing factor to the widespread decline in libido.
If your stress reserves are low, not only is a tough day at the office or a family crisis going to take its toll, but also a hard night partying or a strenuous session at the gym. Although the body needs its stress response to deal with everyday life, if stress is prolonged or extreme, the response can have negative effects on many aspects of health including hormone balance. Testosterone is a steroid hormone, derived from cholesterol. Another important steroid hormone is cortisol, which is secreted as part of the body’s response to stress. Both testosterone and cortisol are derived from progesterone. So if from cholesterol your body makes progesterone and this can then go on to make either testosterone or cortisol, then you can see why, at times of stress, the progesterone is used to produce cortisol, leaving a testosterone deficit.
Although in more serious cases, testosterone medication (on prescription only) may help, it is not getting to the root cause of the deficiency. So rather than just adding testosterone, or even taking so-called aphrodisiacs, it makes sense to help control the body’s stress response. This must primarily take the form of reducing the stress in your life and your attitude towards life’s events, but can also be given a hand by modifying your diet and taking certain supplements. Avoiding stimulants such as coffee, tea, alcohol, cigarettes and sugary foods and drinks can go a long way to stabilising your body’s response to stress by helping to balance your blood sugar levels. (Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol also impede blood flow, which interferes with proper function of the male and female sex organs during sex.) It’s also helpful to eat regularly, have some protein at each meal and eat fresh, unprocessed, fibre-rich foods.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) from fish, nut and seed oils are also important for hormone production and effective hormonal messaging. Include oily fish, nuts and seeds (eg pumpkin, sunflower, almonds and Brazils) in your diet at least three times a week. Excessive stress can also interfere with the thyroid – a symptom of low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) is a low libido in both men and women. If you also have weight gain or difficulty losing weight, dry skin, water retention and depression, it may be worth getting your doctor to run a test to see whether hypothyroidism is behind your low sex drive.
Nutrients for combating stress
The body’s main stress response comes from the adrenal glands, which rely on a good supply of several nutrients to work efficiently. An important one is vitamin C (take 1g a day), others ......
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