A new study shows that while there is an association between hormones and sexual function for women, the role of hormones is limited, and other factors such as relationships and mood play a much bigger role.
It is so important to keep the lines of communication open. Unfortunately we (women and men) are not very good about talking about sexual health issues. Sex often takes a back seat to stress, and stress and sex are not good bed partners. We are seeing so much more about sex on TV, in magazines and in the movies; however, with increased stress occurring in our everyday lives, more and more couples are experiencing sex less and less.
A conversation starter
Although Valentine’s Day may be a happy day for many couples, for many more it can be sad or uncomfortable. Our team has put together a little “romance basket” as a Valentine gift to Lifestyles 55 readers, a little something to perhaps put you in the mood, rekindle a spark, begin that conversation, or provide a moment of laughter.
People have been seeking foods to boost sexual desire for thousands of years. Can certain foods stimulate desire, or is it mostly in our heads?
Foods that aim to stimulate the love senses (sight, smell, taste and touch) are called aphrodisiacs. While science doesn’t deal with aphrodisiacs and their workings, one shouldn’t underestimate the power of suggestion.
Foods that are considered aphrodisiacs fall into five main categories, all based on unproven theories. They may stimulate heat (spicy foods), look like a sexual organ (cucumbers, oysters, avocado), be of reproductive origin (caviar, eggs), be exotic (artichokes) or stimulate the senses in a pleasurable way (chocolate). Foods that are considered “sexy” are generally smooth, rich, creamy, exotic, and spicy. Alcohol, when consumed in moderation can also be a stimulant but beware, because over-consumption is a sexual depressant.
Regardless of whether certain foods stimulate sexual desire, a well-planned meal can be the setting that launches a romantic encounter. A romantic menu might include an appetizer of oysters, a green salad including slices of avocado with balsamic and olive oil vinaigrette, entrée of seafood with colourful vegetables such as asparagus or artichokes, and a dessert of strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, accompanied by a glass of wine. Not only is the menu romantic, but it is also heart healthy. What better way to tell your partner you care!
Before the bedroom
If all this wining and dining leads to some romantic physical activity in the bedroom, make sure you’re prepared well ahead of time to avoid any disappointments.
Up to 57 per cent of women will experience vaginal atrophy, particularly around the time of menopause. After menopause, a woman’s estrogen level drops and this can result over time in changes to the vagina, urinary tract and surrounding tissues. The vagina can become thin, shorter, less stretchy, drier and more prone to infections. Some of the most common symptoms include: vaginal dryness, itching, burning, not enough lubrication produced during sexual activity, and pain or bleeding with intercourse. Some women may also experience frequent bladder infections, or leakage of urine when they cough, laugh or sneeze.
Only about 20 to 25 per cent of women with these bothersome symptoms seek help, even though there are many safe and effective treatments.. At home you can try avoiding harsh soaps when cleansing the vulva – warm water is good enough. Wash underwear in detergents free of dyes or perfumes and avoid using fabric softeners or anti-cling products for the dryer. Do not use perfumed lotions on the vulvar areas. A pharmacist can suggest over the counter vaginal moisturizers that can give back moisture when used on a regular basis.
A water or silicone-based lubricant can be helpful in preventing some of the dryness and scratchiness that can happen due to friction during sex. Avoid lubricants that claim to be “warming”, as they can cause a painful burning sensation to sensitive genital tissues. Smoking can make these symptoms worse, so quitting is a wise move. Frequent sexual stimulation with a partner or self can promote good blood flow and a healthy vagina.
If these measures don’t adequately relieve the symptoms, ask your doctor if low dose vaginal estrogen therapy may be right for you. This remains the most effective treatment for moderate to severe vaginal atrophy and can often help with bladder symptoms.
Finally, if you suffer from vaginal atrophy, beware of the partner who wants to ‘surprise’ you by taking a pill to create a hard erection; this could lead to considerable pain and discomfort. An open discussion about your condition with your partner beforehand could help him understand your condition beforehand, and result in his willingness to wait until your vagina is ready.
Staying in shape not only helps you look and feel good, it can also enhance your sex life.
Physical fitness can boost the physical intensity and quality of your sex life because it increases hormone levels and increases blood flow to our genitals.
Exercise can decrease your stress level, lower body fat and give you more energy, all of which boosts your confidence. Lack of self-esteem is often due to issues involving body image. These issues can kill sex drive and prevent you from enjoying intimacy. Exercise can give you the confidence to enjoy your partner’s touch and foreplay. Any enjoyable activity releases your body’s natural happy hormones, which can make you feel better and help alleviate stress.
Build muscles and stamina
There are a few important muscles which can be strengthened for sex. Training your pelvic floor muscles will help make them tighter, thicker and more responsive, which means they will sit tighter around your partner’s penis and will increase your sensation and amplify the orgasms of both partners. Cardiovascular exercise will help improve your heart and lungs, helping build stamina. Take walks with your partner. This will not only help your cardio-respiratory fitness, it can also help build strong emotional relationships between the two of you..
Strength training is important to hold yourself or your partner in various positions. It also helps boost certain sex hormones, like testosterone. Stretching helps increase your flexibility, which makes sex more interesting and comfortable. And a final positive benefit: lovemaking can decrease the windchill factor by 50 per cent, making Winnipeg – hopefully – a little warmer this Valentine’s Day.
Janet Antoshko, Wendy Borody, Karen DiMarco and Lois Greenhill are practitioners at Victoria General Hospital’s Mature Women’s Centre. To support patient care at the Vic please contact Victoria General Hospital Foundation at (204) 477-3513 or online at www.thevicfoundation.ca.