AH: In your clinical practice, what are the most common contributors to low libido?
JM: I would say the biggest one I see is hormonal imbalances, but not just thinking about the typical sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone, but also looking at things like thyroid hormones. Vitamin D actually functions as a hormone and is a building block for our other sex hormones and thyroid hormones so having a look at those first is key.
AH: Over the last two years with Covid, do you find there has been a trend in low libido recently?
JM: Huge! I would say around 80% of my patients are having libido issues at the moment. This leads me to the second biggest contributor which is stress. And that’s because when our nervous system is stressed and going into the fight/flight mode, there are 3 main parts of our body that take a back seat: digestion, rest, and reproductive function. When you are under stress, the rest, digestion and reproductive side of the nervous system tend to get forgotten by the body and that is why we have way less of a sex drive.
Another contributor to low libido is our gut being sluggish. This could be a contributing factor to hormonal imbalances because when we don’t move our bowels properly, we actually start to reabsorb hormones such as excess estrogen back into the body. Also, just the feeling of nausea and bloating is not conducive of wanting to have sex.
AH: Do you notice a difference in vulva owners vs penis owners, or do you find that those factors affect everyone?
JM: I would say these factors are pretty generalised. With vulva owners, the biggest contributors to low libido are reproductive and thyroid hormones. With penis owners it tends to be around the stress and fatigue side of things – so more nervous system related.
AH: In vulva owners, do you notice fluctuations with libido associated with the menstrual cycle? How about vaginal lubrication?
JM: Definitely. So, the times when our progesterone is at the highest tend to be when our libido is the lowest. Around ovulation is when the typical time to experience high libido because that’s when the body wants to procreate.
Additionally, just before the onset of a period progesterone drops to bring on the period, allowing for another surge in sex drive. This is common in a lot of vulva owners. In regard to vaginal lubrication, when we follow that pattern of when estrogen is the dominant hormone, that is when we typically see extra lubrication. Some people will notice at certain times of the month that they feel drier and that is typically when progesterone is the dominant hormone again.
AH: What do you notice in menopausal women? How about peri and post?
JM: I have found that estrogen is the hormone that makes us lubricate the easiest and I notice in patients that are going into menopause that this will start to drop off a bit and they may notice that they are starting to feel drier and/or have issues with lubrication. This is because estrogen levels are dropping. Postmenopause I tend to notice quite a drop in libido and vaginal lubrication but this is also the drop in testosterone and estrogen coming into menopause. I feel that testosterone is the forgotten hormone when it comes to libido in menopause.
AH: Agreed, people will often forget that in young vulva owners that we have testosterone and how that can contribute to libido. What would you recommend to menopausal and post-menopausal women in terms of naturopathic treatments?
JM: Once you have relevant hormonal testing done to determine which hormones are low we can prescribe certain herbs to promote particular hormone production. There is a beautiful herb that is used in ayurvedic medicine that is nicknamed ‘the herb of 1000 husbands’ because it is actually known for increasing sex drive but also modulates estrogen production in the body. Its also important to look at the base nutrients as well, because I find that when people are going into menopause, those who are busy or mums tend to neglect their diet, and sometimes things like fats in the diet and protein can start to drop off, and we actually need those to create our hormones.
AH: Are there any types of food that have been known to boost libido?
JM: Definitely! There are the common ones that are known. Oysters for example are a really popular aphrodisiac but the reason for this is because they have a really high zinc content. One of the main things I see if I do a nutrient profile on patients is that a lot of people with low libido will also have a low zinc status in their blood. So, zinc-rich foods such as oysters, pumpkin seeds, and free-range meat. If you are a meat-eater, you want to preference organic or free-range because the caged version is not as high in nutrients. You are not really getting bang for your buck.
Another thing I recommend a lot is maca powder, which is a superfood that works on 2 different levels of libido. It is an estrogen
modulator (if estrogen is too dominant it can
cause suppression in sex drive) so the maca will raise estrogen if needed or lower if needed! It also helps the body adapt to stress, so if you are experiencing stress-induced libido suppression so that you feel calmer and more sexual.
The other one is looking at raw cacao or dark chocolate, and the reason it works on libido is that it influences serotonin and dopamine (which are our feel-good neurotransmitters) so that if we feel good we are more likely to want to have sex compared to if we are feeling stressed or down.
AH: What do you suggest (from a naturopathic perspective) someone explore if they have noticed a shift or decline in libido?
JM: There is no one size fits all when it comes to treatments, so we really need to find out what’s going on – which of the hormones is out of whack, is it your sex hormones, is it something in your lifestyle that is causing you stress, your thyroid or vitamin D or zinc levels? So, doing all of those investigative tests with a naturopath would be good.
In terms of things that people can do at home if they are not in the position to do things like testing and naturopathic treatments, is to carefully look at their environment to determine: am I eating really nutritious meals that make me feel full? Nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and free-range meat (if you are a meat-eater) and also looking at things to reduce stress so exercise, getting daily sunlight, meditation, or doing things that make you feel calm. Just starting with those things are ideal because they are the foundations we need to build on before we look at things like testing.
Jess is a passionate clinical naturopath based in Naarm/Melbourne with particular knowledge in, but not limited to hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, and autoimmunity. She offers nutritional and herbal medicine, dietary recommendations, referrals for medical and functional pathology testing, lifestyle advice and guidance on other modalities that would also add to your healing. Available online and in-person through Inside and Out.
Aleeya’s qualifications include a Bachelor and Honours in Psychological Science, and a Masters in Sexual and Reproductive Health, specialising in psychosexual therapy and reproductive endocrinology.
She is a sexologist and fertility counsellor who is passionate about normalising the conversation around sex, pleasure & fertility. She holds a membership with the Society of Australian Sexologists (SAS) & Fertility Society of Australia (FSA).