S-E-X. You can’t get enough of it in your 20’s, and then at some point in life, it can start to feel like a chore.
There are other things that just seem much more appealing during those few minutes of downtime, like taking a nap, or watching a little reality TV, or even just getting the laundry done. What can you do about it?
There are many factors that can affect sex drive, such as whether or not you are in a relationship, how you are getting along, body image satisfaction, dietary intake, medication use, depression or history of sexual abuse. But if you don’t have any of those issues, how come you still aren’t in the mood?
Hormones that affect sex drive in females.
For starters, it might help to know that about ¼ of women of reproductive age and ½ of postmenopausal women suffer from decreased libido. So if you thought you were alone in this, you are not. In addition, it’s normal for sex drive to wane if you’ve been in a relationship for a while or are simply getting older.
Even though we haven’t exactly identified which hormones dictate sex drive, we do know that hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, are abundant when we are younger, and diminish as we age. And from nature’s perspective, this is logical because we don’t need to keep trying to make babies once we hit a certain stage of life.
In order to check up on these hormone levels as you age, Parsley Health doctors perform lab tests to evaluate the health of your sexual function. Since we know our bodies are producing less estrogen and testosterone, a critical determinant of the production of these hormones is cortisol, the stress hormone made in the adrenal glands that can also be tested, often with a saliva test.
Cholesterol, that famous lipid we’ve been trying to lower for the past few decades, is also worth measuring because having some around actually serves a purpose. One of its jobs is to act as a precursor of a number of hormones. Cholesterol can either follow one pathway to turn into cortisol or follow a different pathway to form testosterone and estrogen. So when cholesterol is very low, or stress is very high, we create less estrogen and testosterone—which might help to explain why you experience a boost in libido on vacation when stress is low.
Foods that affect sex drive.
One of the biggest factors that might be affecting your sex hormones is your dietary intake. Getting in enough foods rich in omega-3 fats help to support nerve and neurotransmitter actions that aid in sexual function while foods rich in zinc such as pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, spinach, and eggs support proper and speedy blood flow to all the right places. However, a diet that lacks essential vitamins and minerals and is filled with chemical preservatives and sweeteners might be having the opposite effect on your mojo.
For example, research shows that processed, chemically-derived food products such as diet soda can increase your risk of weight gain and cause hormonal dysfunction, leading to weakened sexual desire. Inadequate fat consumption from low-fat diets can significantly decrease testosterone levels, making it harder to get in the mood. Separately, conventional meat and dairy products which are produced from animals that are grain-fed and injected with hormones may slow digestion and disrupt your body’s natural hormonal balance.
So what is the best diet for natural sex drive? A varied, whole foods based nutrition plan that emphasizes organic plant foods, healthy fats, and well-sourced animal products is an essential initial step to correcting a diminished sex drive. Your libido can also get a boost from certain herbs and supplements.
Top 6 herbs and supplements to increase female sex drive.
When everything seems to be in about as good a place from a diet and lifestyle perspective as it’s going to be yet your sex drive is still low, there are some natural herbal supplements that might be helpful in boosting your body’s libido and sexual function, including increasing sensitivity and lubrication.
1. Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
You may be used to seeing maca in your local juice shop or wellness store, but did you know that it has a reputation as an herb for increasing sex drive? This plant is native to the Peruvian Central Andes and has been used in South America for years to improve fertility. There is some evidence that about 3 mg per day improves sexual desire and may be specifically helpful in those taking SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants. Early research has also demonstrated that maca may be effective in reducing symptoms in perimenopausal (the stage right before a woman enters menopause) and postmenopausal women, due to its ability to balance estrogen levels that dip during these stages. This could include alleviating vaginal dryness and increasing female lubrication, though more research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions.
The effects of maca as a female libido supplement appear modest, but there are no known side effects, and as a bonus, maca is rich in iron, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and copper, making it a great source of nutrients your body needs to function properly regardless of sexual activity. It may also enhance energy, mental clarity, and quality of life.
2. Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover is a legume—just like the chickpeas or lima beans in your salad—that is known as an herb that increases sex drive in some people. This is a plant high in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen (aka plant estrogen) that is similar to female estrogen. Because of this, it’s often used to relieve menopausal symptoms or naturally boost libido. One study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that post-menopausal women who took 80 mg of red clover isoflavones over 90 days improved not only libido but also mood, sleep, and energy.
Though research on red clover is still new and conclusions about its effectiveness as a female libido supplement are relatively mixed, it also has potential in improving bone health and cardiovascular function.
3. Korean red ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Korean red ginseng has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine, claiming success in boosting immunity, improving heart health, and even treating diabetes. Though clinical research in these areas is inconclusive, there are some early studies that show promise in korean red ginseng as an effective herb for sex drive. There have been some small studies of this herb that show it improves sexual desire in females at a dose of 3,000 mg per day. In the smaller of these studies, 2 of 28 women developed vaginal bleeding, though another study of 72 women reassuring found no change in estrogen levels at that same dose and did not report episodes of vaginal bleeding.
And though these studies are mixed in effectiveness in women, there’s some strong evidence supporting korean red ginseng’s use alleviating erectile dysfunction in men. A double-blind study of erectile dysfunction patients found that 900mg of korean red ginseng three times a day for eight weeks led to improvement in ED symptoms compared to a placebo group.
4. Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris)
This plant, also known as puncture vine for it’s sharp spines, originated in Ayurvedic medicine and has been studied in both post-menopausal women and women of reproductive age with decreased sexual function, and seems to be successful in naturally increasing female sensitivity and lubrication. A dose of 7.5mg per day of extract in pre-menopausal women and 750mg/day (in tablet form) in menopausal women benefitted them in regard to many aspects of sexual dysfunction, including desire and lubrication. It increased testosterone levels in post-menopausal women, which may, at least in part, explain it’s effectiveness.
One study found that 500-1500 mg of tribulus for 90 days led to increased sex drive in women with low libido. Though more research is needed on this supplement, its effects in increasing female sensitivity, lubrication, and desire are promising.
5. Lady Prelox®
This female libido supplement is a combination of a few herbs and nutrients that have shown some benefit to female sexual function, and claims benefits of improved sexual comfort and pleasure. The supplement combines Pycnogenol® pine bark extract, L-arginine, L-citrulline and Rosvita® rose hip extract to enhance your body’s natural sex drive
It works by activating an enzyme that turns the L-arginine into nitric oxide, a molecule that exists naturally in our bodies to relax the muscles in our blood vessels and improve circulation. This activation is supplemented by the Pycnogenol® pine bark extract and L-citrulline, which work together to send oxygen-rich blood to your reproductive organs—and your brain for an added boost. It was studied in pre- and post-menopausal women and both populations experienced improved sexual function after just four weeks.
6. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum)
Fenugreek is a plant that is cultivated worldwide and whose seeds are commonly used in South and Central Asian cuisine. The seeds also have roots in Ayurvedic medicine where they have been celebrated for their anti-inflammatory and libido-boosting effects. Some studies show the mighty herb positively influences sex hormones by increasing the activity of both testosterone and estrogen.
One such study investigated the effects of fenugreek extract supplemention on 80 women who reported low sex drive. The experimental group took 600 mg of fenugreek daily and, compared to the placebo group, observed a significant increase in sexual desire and arousal by the end of the eight-week study. Typically, fenugreek is well tolerated but may interfere with certain medications, cause digestive distress in sensitive individuals, and should not be taken during pregnancy.
Precautions with using herbs to increase female libido.
The natural supplements reviewed above are included because they have been tested in randomized controlled trials, meaning they were compared with a placebo. This is key when evaluating libido since what happens between our ears is incredibly influential on our sex drive.
But it is important to put these studies into context – they are small studies, usually with fewer than 100 participants, and each herb for sex drive has best tested in only a handful of studies. That means you should recognize that, though they appear to be safe to use, we don’t know a lot about how long to take them, or if they are safe for everyone.
If you are dealing with decreased libido, a Parsley Health doctor can help you determine which natural libido supplement may be right for you and help rule out any more serious underlying issues that may be contributing to your low sex drive.
With that caution in mind, if you want to naturally increase your libido, manage that stress with some deep meditative breaths, set up a little romantic mood lighting and music, and, if your healthcare provider gives the okay, try one of these female libido supplements.
Final thoughts on how to naturally increase sex drive.
- Several factors can affect sex drive in women, such as whether or not you are in a relationship, how you are getting along, body image satisfaction, dietary intake, medication use, depression or history of sexual abuse.
- High levels of cortisol suppress our sex hormones, which can lead to a lower libido.
- Introducing restorative practices like meditation and yoga can go a long way in reducing cortisol levels and may help naturally increase your sex drive.
- Herbs and supplements can help improve your libido naturally, but it is best to work with a doctor to help you determine which is best for your needs.