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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Keeping the Drive Alive

Contributing Author: McFadzean, Nicola N.D.

Nicola McFadzeanDr. Nicola McFadzean is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, trained in both the United States and her native country of Australia. She received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Nicola works with a wide variety of health conditions, ranging from cognitive issues to digestive problems to hormonal imbalance. She can access a full spectrum of laboratory testing to assess imbalances in the body, while having the freedom to prescribe natural remedies and prescription medications when necessary.

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Human sexuality is a topic that is often ignored, misrepresented and generally swept under the rug.  Our sexuality is a big part of who we are, but as men and women age, physiological changes occur that can alter the way we feel about and respond to sex, both physically and emotionally.

Men and women relate to sex differently, and what we need from sex changes at different times over the course of our lives.  Stereotypically, women seek emotional satisfaction from sex along with the physical, while men are more driven by their physical desires.  Many men report that they could have sex with their partners even when angry with them, as they are able to separate the physical aspect from their emotional state of mind.  Fewer women would be able to do the same.

There are also major lifestyle factors that regulate sexual compatibility between men and women.  A classic example is the couple that just had a baby.  Mom is at home all day caring for the child, and often up at night feeding as well.  Dad may be working during the day and less able to tend to the baby’s needs during the night, especially if the infant is being breastfed.  Mom gets exhausted, possibly depressed, and Dad doesn’t really know how to communicate with her and help her.  He makes advances at her to try to show his affection and to seek intimacy, but sex is the last thing on her mind – she’s just trying to get through the day and sneak as much sleep as she can at night.  This can lead to a severe disconnect between the couple at a time when they should be at their closest – tending to their new baby.

There are also physical aspects to this scenario – a woman’s hormones may become out of balance after the birth of the baby, and this is something that I feel is ignored.  Postpartum depression has been correlated with low levels of two hormones – progesterone and thyroid.  Pregnancy puts high demands on both of these hormones, and if both plummet once the baby has been born, mom may be thrown into a biochemical quagmire.  Some moms report that they should feel over the moon because of their new child, and yet all they want to do is cry.  Clearly, this is not conducive to recreating a satisfying sex life between the parents, so hormone testing and balancing become crucial.

Just as postpartum hormonal changes can affect a woman’s sexuality, so can the changes during menopause.  Suzanne Somers (The Sexy Years, Ageless) described the “seven dwarfs of menopause” as Itchy, Bitchy, Sweaty, Sleepy, Bloated, Forgetful and All-Dried-Up.  This doesn’t exactly paint a picture of a woman who is feeling good about herself and her body, does it?  Many patients have simply looked at me and laughed when I asked them about their libido.  “What libido?” they reply.

Lack of physical desire is certainly a huge deterrent for women in maintaining a healthy sex life throughout their 40s, 50s and beyond.  Emotional aspects are also involved, so the importance of keeping the romantic spark alive in nonphysical ways should not be underestimated.  Couples who have open communication, trust each other and share a sense of humor have been found to have more satisfying sex lives.  On a physiological level, low levels of estrogen and testosterone can dampen both desire and response to sexual stimulation.  After having your hormone levels tested, testosterone cream, either applied vaginally for a local effect or systemically for a broader effect, can kick-start the libido.  There are many happy women (and men!) out there using testosterone in safe physiological doses to help improve their sex lives.

The second major preventive for women is vaginal dryness, which can make sex very uncomfortable.  Of course, using a lubricating gel such as K-Y can be a short-term solution, but again, hormone balancing will give a woman more of her own lubrication.  I find that estrogen is the most important hormone here.  Estrogen may also be applied vaginally, resulting in less systemic absorption and an effective local effect.  Vitamin A, vitamin E and calendula suppositories can soothe the vaginal tissues and assist with lubrication.

Bio-identical hormone replacement may be used to reduce the mood swings and depression that can accompany menopause, again, improving a woman’s ability to feel content and sexual.

Of course, the hormonal shifts that occur in middle age may be just as significant for men as for women.  Men in their middle years experience a drop in testosterone levels, which can have a direct impact on their sexual desire and function.  They also are more likely to convert more of their testosterone to estrogen and produce more globulin, a protein that takes active forms of sex hormones and binds them, causing them to be in ‘short-term storage’.  That’s a triple-whammy for men – lower testosterone to start with, more conversion of testosterone to estrogen, and more testosterone being put in storage.  The low testosterone level may also result in a loss of physical strength and endurance, as well as depression and a loss of enthusiasm for life.

The other consideration for erectile dysfunction is more of a circulatory cause than a hormonal one.  Nitric oxide is a naturally produced chemical that causes vasodilation in the penis, allowing for increased blood flow and erection.  A lack of nitric oxide inhibits this process.  L-arginine, an amino acid, has been found to increase levels of nitric oxide.  It is used extensively for cardiovascular issues, but has also had success in erectile dysfunction via the nitric oxide and circulatory response.

Men can gain significant benefit from hormone replacement therapy.  Bio-identical testosterone can bring their hormone levels back up, making them feel more youthful, physically stronger, emotionally healthier and more sexual.  Nutrients such as chrysin and zinc help prevent the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, while herbs such as Tribulus enhance overall wellbeing.

That your sex life has to dwindle through different stages of your life does not have to be inevitable.  One of the keys to maintaining healthy desire is making sure your hormones are balanced, and using bio-identical hormones in a safe, sensible way can assist this process.  In addition, consistently working on the emotional connection between you and your partner will go a long way in creating the intimacy that underlies desire.