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Over-the-Counter Aphrodisiacs with Possibility

Many of the women I see in my office want a “natural” treatment for their sex life. They don’t want a prescribed medication if they can get their libido back in some other way. Many experiment with trying over-the-counter herbs fully aware that there may be more hype about love potions than actual fact, and hopeful that there is some truth to the marketing.

In this blog post I point to the medical research that has been done on the over-the-counter products that are out there now; these products are available to everyone, and yet they are not safe for everyone to use. The comments below outline for you what is known about these products from medical research.

The info comes from a 2015 review presented in Journal of Sexual Medicine. The review was done to answer the same question: Was there was any evidence to support all the claims of sexual wonder?  It turns out that fenugreek, Korean red ginseng, maca, L-arginine and tribulus terrestris are plant products that did show supporting evidence, even if the evidence was limited in scope. I have included a few details from this review of research below.

Fenugreek: Fenugreek is an herb, often used in Ayurvedic medicine, which contains building blocks used to create estrogen and testosterone. A 2015 study showed that fenugreek improved arousal, lubrication, and satisfaction in premenopausal women. There were minor intestinal side effects. The dose used in the study was 300 mg twice a day. Fenugreek should not be used by people taking blood-thinning medication (anticoagulants), or by women with hormonally active cancers.

Maca: Maca is a root vegetable from Peru and has long been used for fertility in the Andean culture. Three out of four of the random clinical trials mentioned in this review did show positive effects on sexuality. Study doses ranged from 1.5 to 3 grams of maca a day. Its mechanism of action is not fully understood. It is known to not alter estrogen and testosterone levels as fenugreek does. It does contain phytoestrogens, plant-based compounds that can inhabit the estrogen receptors in your body. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you are, your hormonal status, whether you have cancer, the medications you are on, and many other factors that researchers are currently trying to decipher. Maca is well tolerated. We do not yet have data on what doses are optimal or safe for women to take.

Ginseng: Korean red ginseng is an herb that has been shown in one double-blind study to heighten arousal in menopausal women. It works by encouraging the release of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow in the clitoris and vaginal walls. (This is the same biochemical pathway that is augmented by Viagra, Cialis and similar medications.) Ginseng has been shown to be estrogenic, so it should be avoided by women with hormonally active cancers, and by women who have bleeding disorders or are on anticoagulant medications.

Tribulus Terrestris: This herb contains a compound which converts to DHEA. DHEA is a building block for your testosterone. This review found two randomized placebo-controlled studies that demonstrated improvement in female sexual function using this herb. The herb was well tolerated and sometimes caused minor intestinal side effects.

Horny Goat Weed (Traditional Chinese Medicine herb), Potency Wood (Brazilian herb), Damiana Leaf (extract from a Mexican shrub), and Gingko (tree used in Traditional Chinese Medicine) have promise, yet lack research. Yohimbine (parts from an African plant) is a strong aphrodisiac and its side effects can be life threatening, so it is not recommended for any over-the-counter use.

L-arginine, a common amino acid, is taken by many men and some women for a Viagra-like effect. It is a precursor to nitric oxide and nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate and fill with blood all over your body, including the clitoral and vaginal areas. There is significant evidence that L-arginine is helpful in producing firmer erections in men. Research on L-arginine by itself in women is lacking. There is a small double-blind study of 108 women that showed an increase in sexual desire and sexual satisfaction after taking the supplement ArginMax. This is a multi-ingredient supplement which has L-arginine in it, along with a variety of vitamins and herbs, some of which we have just mentioned: Korean Ginseng, Ginkgo, and Damiana Leaf.

Medicine, to date, hasn’t generated enough evidence-based data to establish guidelines for safe use of herbs over time, so we are left somewhat on our own. I say somewhat as there are naturopaths, herbalists, and nutritionists who are well educated in the potential of these plant products and have used them clinically for decades. Be careful in experimenting! Herbs are powerful products, and as you can see above, they can increase hormones in your body that can contribute to cancers and blood clots.

A Body Designed for Sexual Pleasure and Female Orgasm

There is quite a lot to celebrate about the female body and how it responds to and is geared for pleasure and female orgasm. It is quite marvelous. When arousal is triggered, cascades of events occur. Neurotransmitters release from a woman’s brain and she gets a nice tingly feeling in her genital tissue. Her nipples become firm, and the clitoris gets erect. Her vulva swells and the labia change from flesh or pink color to a dusky rose or purple. She feels sexually excited. The vaginal walls get suddenly wet. Her clitoris and the surrounding vascular tissue engorges with blood. Some muscles contract and her heart rate increases. Breathing is fast. There is a sense of tension.

On the outside of the vulva, women and their partners can see the glans of the clitoris, that external bump of tissue. This glans has the most nerve endings of any place on her body. This is similar to the head of a man’s penis which is thought to be the most sensitive part of the penis with the highest concentration of nerve endings. Both these glans are very sensitive to touch and they can be extremely so. Yet they are not the whole story of arousal and orgasm. Obvious on the male, yet hidden on the female are the shaft and the two internal legs. The legs of the clitoris are 5 to 7 centimeters in length. The shaft and the legs are what cause both the penis and the clitoris to swell when arousal happens. They become erect. Internal swelling in a female can be felt through the upper vaginal wall in the area we know as the G spot. When swelling is significant enough with stimulation there — orgasms occur.

There is also an area of the vaginal wall that is deeper inside, referred to as the A spot or the Deep spot. This spot, on the upper vaginal wall in front of the cervix, can feel wonderfully arousing. This deep spot is mediated by a different nerve and women report that it feels different than both an external clitoral or G-spot orgasm. Women report they like it being touched directly, with thrusting motion, and they also like it when touch moves across the surface of that area, like skimming the surface of a lake.

The only function of the clitoris and its 8,000 nerve endings is for a woman to experience pleasure, sexual pleasure. The clitoris does not secrete substances or hormones, it does not contribute directly to reproduction or urination, it does not support other processes in her body. It exists for your pleasure.

On top of this awesome genitalia there are the many other erogenous zones in your female body. Your lips, your breasts, your nipples and the skin at the nape of your neck or inner thigh are territories of sensual delight to be explored. Skin can be wonderfully erotic and is packed with nerve endings. Light feathery touch can be scintillating, exploration can be done with your lips, tongue, fingers. There are 2,500 nerve endings per square centimeter in your fingertips, for example, and a lot can be communicated with touch, especially touch that is intended to excite and arouse.

Look at the marvelous features of your  female body, and you can appreciate that the physical groundwork for exquisite pleasure has been pre­-established. Having this sensitive equipment does not mean women get easily aroused. Many don’t. One has to have arousal triggered for this cascade of events to  occur. What triggers arousal and leads to female orgasm is the million dollar question.  Arousal can start long before you get in the bedroom, or it can start in the bedroom. It can start with a look, a touch, a smell. If a woman’s arousal is heightened and sustained on enough of her multiple channels, she will have a great experience.  The equipment for her pleasure is there, and one needs to know how to use it to.

PS: What works to get you aroused is not something you choose — it is something you discover.

See my other posts about arousal and female orgasm:

To read more explicit things about female orgasm and pleasure, click here and visit OMGYes.

The Female Brain and Your Level of Sexual Desire

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Sexual desire is funny mystery. You want to be relaxed enough so that you can then enjoy a build up of tension. It seems like two different directions at the same time, yet that is how sex works. The following current medical research looks at these two directions:

MRIs were taken of the brains of women who have low desire. Their brain activity was compared to the activity in women without low desire. In the women with low desire, the area of the cortex that is involved in self-monitoring and has ‘inhibitory executive control’ showed hyper activation. This meant her YES for sex was dampened down, and she had built-in inhibition. This is not what most women want.

In medicine, low desire through one frame is seen as the result of an imbalance in the excitatory and inhibitory processes inside of us. These are biochemical processes. The imbalance is caused by too little excitement or too much inhibition or a combination of those two phenomena.

Neurotransmitters are one focus of what may be involved. For example, Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that stabilizes our moods, is calming, and promotes good sleep. It is also a key inhibitory factor in sexual desire. It weakens the ability of the excitatory systems in our bodies to be activated by sexual cues. Sexual cues are what trigger our arousal and get us activated sexually. You want to be activated to have a good time.

Medicine is currently looking at ways to intervene in this process by modulating these excitatory and inhibitory pathways through targeting of neurotransmitters. Bupropion (Wellbutrin), bremelanotide (possible brand name is Rekynda) buspirone (Buspar), and flibanserin (Addyi) are examples of the drugs being explored to activate. At this time only flibanserin (Addyi) has been approved by the FDA to treat low desire.   Of note, there are combination products under study now. A combination product of testosterone and buspirone has been designed and is not yet available in the US, and a combination of trazodone and bupropion is in development here.

There are non-pharmacological ways to influence neurotransmitter levels too!   Cuddling with your mate and spending time with girlfriends are two that are well known to increase your activating neurotransmitter levels.

In my blog post titled: “Women and Sexual Arousal” I talk about Addyi, click here to read it.

More coming on this topic in future newsletters.

Women and Sexual Arousal

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When women get in bed with their mates and start touch that leads to sex, they are often starting at a zero Female Arousallevel of sexual arousal—maybe a one or two out of ten. The arousal level exciting enough to lead to orgasm would be a nine or a ten. That is a big jump, and it is a jump you want to know how to make. Finding out how to do this is a process of discovery. Most women I talk to who have low levels of arousal have not spent the time needed to explore what brings them pleasure. They have not discovered what actually works for them. Or, in some cases, they used to know, but their bodies have changed, and they have not re-explored.

Talk about sexual arousal reminds me of what a 33-year old woman said in an evening class I taught. She introduced herself saying that she was there to find out if she could have sex that was something in-between the sex she was currently having with her husband, and the sex in the erotic novel, 50 Shades of Grey. Peals of laughter emerged from all corners of the room as the women in the class could relate.

The remarkable thing about the sex in 50 Shades of Grey, in my view, is not its S and M components; it is that the book displays the benefits of having sex with someone who is well trained in sexual arousal. This level of training is the standout element in this book. The sex in 50 Shades of Grey did not just happen. It was sex with someone who had spent hours paying attention to what is sexually arousing to another person. Christian Grey had invested time, attention, and thousands of dollars on his sexual education and hours spent in practice and experimenting in how to move a woman from a zero to a ten. He learned to identify increases in heart rate, to figure out which pressure of touch got his partner to create faster, which moans indicated she was near her edge.

If the arousal level in your sex life does not match 50 Shades of Grey, don’t be down on yourself or your partner. Don’t think you should already know. If you’re like most of the people who come to see me, neither you nor your partner has had a single class in sexual arousal. You have not had the hours of one-on-one mentoring with uninterrupted focus and no expense spared that the fictitious Christian Grey had.

Most women piece together their education in sexual arousal with the bits and pieces they have stumbled upon from direct experience, or as interpreted through girlfriends, the movies, TV, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and maybe a sister. They hope their partner has had a better education, but this is unlikely.

As interested as men are in getting their women excited and pleasing them, and they are interested in doing that, few are well informed about how to do it. Most likely your partner has had little useful education about sexual pleasure. High school sex education classes cover anatomy and physiology, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases. These classes focus on real problems and risks involved with sexual activity, but they do not educate at all on how to create a good experience or peak of pleasure. His information about your pleasure, most likely, is collected from bits too; e.g. his friends, TV pornography, or other things he as read on the internet, as well as what he has found to work in the past.

Your arousal is at the heart of enjoying sex and central to both you and your partner’s satisfaction. Your arousal is a very good thing. The more you are aroused, the more excited you will feel, and the more likely you are to orgasm. Finding out what kind of stimulation gets you going is essential. What works for you sexually is not something you get to choose, it is something you get to discover. You can’t decide to be aroused by something — you get to try it and see if it does actually work. If you don’t know what works for you it does not mean there is anything wrong with you. Most likely you are sexually “normal”. Don’t think you should already know, and don’t blame yourself. The action for you to take is to experiment! Experimenting is the doorway to finding out.

The first thing to know as you explore what takes you from a zero to a ten is that no two women are alike. You have your own personal arousal triggers. The ideas you see in the movies, or hear from a girlfriend may or may not work for you. How do you find out what works for you?  You experiment. You find out what makes you tingly or hot and what makes you wet.

Be yourself, relax your mind, and feel your reactions. Perhaps a light touch to the side of your ribs is deliciously arousing to you. Or maybe you prefer being lifted strongly into the bed by your partner and aggressively mounted. Or a tender personal, erotic dialogue in your ear during intercourse may be what works to get you going. Is it roses? It is his sexual advances? Is it when he does something on the edge? What gets you sexually excited?

Maybe romance arouses you? If so, don’t judge it; work with it. Read romance novels. Watch movies with swashbuckling heroes or heroines that are swept away by love. Ask your partner to up his romantic moves. Ask to be surprised with flowers, or to have your bed littered with rose petals and an enormous number of candles lit around the room, or dine first by candlelight as a prelude. Perhaps you’d like to role-play with him. He gets to be the Texas Ranger, and you are the irresistible damsel in distress, or vice versa. As you experiment you may be surprised what excites you. Make note of it. You may not choose to do every thing that excites you, but you may want to do some of them.

Watch erotic movies, or read erotic literature. There is a whole genre of material out there that is designed to turn you on – see if it does. In bed try a variety of touches and pressures, different positions, unique places and see how you respond.

When something works don’t keep it to yourself. With your words or your moans, let your partner know you are turned on. You can say: “More there,” “Yes!” “That’s it.”
When things are not working, let him know too. If his hand is slightly off the right spot, move it. If the pressure is too strong, adjust your body or his.   Don’t do it as a frustrated woman, or a stern teacher, do it as a sexy female who is aroused and wanting to be more aroused. You are on the same team, working together to make sex exciting for both of you.

If you don’t know what touch or position you want, but you know what he or she is doing isn’t working, communicate your desire to experiment, “Let’s try here” or “Touch me here.” Take his hand and place it where you can explore. Move it in the rhythm that feels good to you. Small immediate sexy communications that disclose to your partner what is happening inside your body work to keep arousal building.

If squeezing your nipples is more arousing than kissing them, tell him to squeeze them. If you know the kind of passion in the kiss you want, show him. Kiss him the way you want to be kissed. Tell him in your aroused passionate (not angry or critical) voice that this is how you love to kiss.

For examples of women who have claimed their sexual selves enough to share the specifics of their own orgasms go to www.OMGyes.com.  The open talk on this site may reframe things

Don’t take it personally if you have to tell him again the next time. Persist. When he sees what awakens when you get fully excited his memory will improve.

Be direct and positive. A man’s macho self can take it. They can take your honesty. They want you to be excited, so they are more open to change than you think. They don’t know what to do to get you excited, so tell them. If your partner is female, communicate with her in the language that would work for you, whether you are using the language of touch or words. Watch and listen to her responses closely, and adjust what you do. There are two arousal speeds in the room, and you want both of you to get to 9 or 10.

Remember, if you don’t know what works for you it does not mean there is anything wrong with you. Most likely you are sexually “normal”. Don’t think you should already know, and don’t blame yourself. The action for you now is to find out.

For more in depth writings on this subject, click here to buy Fanning the Female Flame-How to Increase Your Sexual Desire.

Women and Sexual Desire: Adding clarity into this mystery

The women I see in my office express a yearning for a deep connection and a big love affair, for a mate that treasures them more than anyone else. They want this passion and excitement in their everyday lives. Preferably they want to have this with their current husband, or partner. They do not want to change husbands to get this, though they may if it seems impossible otherwise.

At the same time that they express this yearning for a deeper and more exciting connection, they speak very highly of their mate. Nine out of ten women who come to my office give high marks to their partners. They deeply love and respect the male or female partner in their lives. They comment on his/her patience, understanding, and willingness to try anything. They talk about kindness and support and goodness. They are attracted to their mate.

And then we come to SEX, the reason she made the appointment in the first place. She says, “Is there something wrong with me, or wrong with my hormones, that I am not interested anymore? Is there a reason I am not into it? Can I change anything? Do I have to accept this as my new normal? Can I get back to the way it used to feel?” Or if she has never been turned on, “Can I ever feel what I hear is possible? It is not him, it is me. I am just not that into it.”

Low desire is the number one complaint women have worldwide. Four out of ten women say they have low libido, and one of those four is distressed about it.

One way to talk about women’s sexual desire is to break it down and talk about the different types of desire. Spontaneous desire is the name we give to desire when a woman herself wants sex. She is interested, she is on the prowl, she is excited. She is not responding to her partner’s advances; instead she is the one initiating the contact, making that first wink. There is also receptive or responsive desire. This is when a woman responds with interest to her partner’s or husband’s approaches. Sex is not her idea. The idea is originating with her partner. He or she does the thing that gets her interested, whispers the personal sweet thighs into her ear, or draws her a bath and lights candles.

Spontaneous desire in women can happen for a variety of reasons. One pattern that gets a lot of floor time in my office is cyclical or biological desire. This is the most common description I hear from women of what desire means to them. If you are still menstruating this occurs mid-cycle for a few days when hormones peak at ovulation time, about day 14 of your cycle. Some women also report an increase in desire right before their period begins or a day into their periods. At this point in your menstrual cycle, the PMS time, estrogen and progesterone are actually at their lowest levels. Testosterone is the only hormone left standing. It gets to dominate the action for a day or two, or longer. This type of desire is hormonally driven by the hormones that drive your menstrual cycles. This cycling drives the acne and irritability before your period too.

The cyclical spontaneous desire that can occur mid-cycle, and maybe at the end of the cycle, is not there after menopause. It is also not there when you block ovulation with hormonal birth control. As you can see women are not simple around sex, and in their beauty and complexity there are many places to look for desire. Occasionally low desire is caused by one thing, like an interfering medication. Sometimes it is hormones, vaginal dryness or sexual pain. Most often it is a variety of obstacles, physical and non-physical.

An important thing to remember: A woman does not have to have a surge of hormonal desire to make something interesting happen in the bedroom. She can create something interesting any day just because she can. 

Click here to read my blog post about women and sexual arousal.