Stalled sex drive?
Soon after my 40th birthday, I noticed something had disappeared along with my youth: my libido. I’m not the only one. A 2008 Massachusetts General Hospital study of more than 30,000 women found that 39 percent suffered from low sexual desire. Meanwhile, when I finally summoned the courage to discuss my little problem with my friends, I got enough anecdotes for an entire season of No Sex and the City: the lusty Samantha among us was now libidoless as she approached menopause; our Miranda-like working mom was too busy to get busy; the reserved Charlotte type shyly confessed she couldn’t recall when she last felt frisky; and sex for the Carrie in our group, now 20 years into her relationship, had long since become sporadic and stale.
Age is definitely a factor. “Libido is connected to our levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone the body uses to produce the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone,” says Susan Doughty, APRN-CNP, an OB-GYN nurse practitioner and co-founder of New England WomenCenter in Portland, Maine. As it turns out, DHEA drops dramatically—and depressingly—between age 30 and the onset of menopause. But midlife isn’t the only sex drive-squelching issue. Stress and fatigue, as well as prescription drugs including antidepressants, can also diminish desire. Obviously you can’t turn back the hands of time, and the best long-term solution is to address any underlying issues. In the meantime, certain herbal aphrodisiacs and sex-enhancing supplements can help. Here’s a look at some key ingredients and how they work.
1. L-arginine This amino acid helps with nitric oxide production, which increases blood flow throughout your body and to your clitoris, says Mark Blumenthal of the American Botanical Council in Austin, Texas. According to research published in The Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 70 percent of women with low libidos reported that they were more satisfied with sex after taking ArginMax, which contains L-arginine as well as damiana leaf (see below), ginseng and ginkgo, for one month. The women in the study also saw an increase in their desire, lubrication, clitoral sensation and orgasms. Recommended Rx: 2,500 milligrams daily
2. Damiana leaf Because it reduces anxiety and inhibitions, this nervous system tonic, also known as Turnera diffusa, helps you become more relaxed and amenable to arousal, says herbalist Roy Upton, R.H., executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia in Scotts Valley, Calif. Damiana leaf’s aphrodisiac abilities are also linked to one of its compounds, progestin, which is similar to the female sex hormone progesterone that drops, and dampens libido, as we head toward menopause. Recommended Rx: 1 gram daily
3. Catuaba This Amazonian aphrodisiac, which also goes by the name erythroxylum catuaba, comes from a tree native to Brazil, where tribes traditionally use it to remedy a lagging libido, impotence and nervousness (a well-known mojo-killer). The plant’s active compounds, catuabine A and B, appear to act on the sex centers in the brain, says Chris Kilham, an ethnobotanist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of Tales from the Medicine Trail (Rodale), so you may experience erotic dreams when taking catuaba. Recommended Rx: 100 milligrams daily