How to get in the mood for love
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
We know it has something to do with sex. We know it's a good thing, and most of us want to have it ? but what is the "L word" (libido, that is) exactly?
"Libido" is medically defined, in part, as "sexual drive, conscious or unconscious" and "variously identified as the sex urge, desire for pleasure or satisfaction."
This gives us some insight into the science of the libido. If we want a livelier libido, experts say, we should try ways to boost it both consciously and unconsciously, with an emphasis on the "P" word -- pleasure.
Sexuality is yet another example of the vital connection between mind, body, and spirit. At first glance, sex seems like mostly a physical matter. So if you are having libido issues, you should look at physical (body-related) solutions, right? And for some people -- those who have sexual dysfunctions arising from a medical condition -- that may be the answer. It's also true that the general state of our health can affect our libidos (and we all know how important good nutrition and regular exercise are for our health).
But we shouldn't neglect the importance of the mind and spirit in relation to libido, according to Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a board-certified sex therapist in California.
Think back to some of your best sex. What was going on? Was it following great conversation or a relaxing soak in a hot tub? Were you sharing your heart and soul with the one you loved? Were you on vacation with your partner and in "letting-go" mode, shedding all the stress from home and work?
"Hurried Woman" Syndrome
It stands to reason that some people are having libido issues partly because of our crazy, stressed-out lives these days; there's simply less time for connecting with our partners. Moving our minds and bodies from "being productive" to "being intimate" mode takes time and attention, says Weston.
One researcher actually came up with a name for this phenomenon -- "Hurried Woman Syndrome." Brent Bost, MD, a researcher in private practice in Beaumont, Texas, coined the term to describe a trio of complaints he and other obstetrician/gynecologists see often in their patients: fatigue, weight gain, and decreased libido. In a recent survey of ob-gyns, 64% said stress was the main cause of these symptoms.
Treatment for "Hurried Woman Syndrome" can include a balanced diet, cognitive-behavioral therapy to help patients cope with stress, and, potentially, antidepressants, Bost advises.
A Balanced Diet to the Rescue
If you're feeling hurried and harried, give the balanced-diet option a gander to start with. You have nothing to lose, and improved health (and, possibly, improved libido) to gain.
I'm not going to cite all sorts of statistics on the shocking percentage of women today who complain of low libido. Suffice it to say that if this describes you, you know who you are -- and you should take comfort in knowing you are definitely not alone.
By "balanced diet," Bost means not skipping meals, not overeating, and including plenty of nutritious plant foods (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans) along with lean meats, fish, and low-fat dairy foods. It's about eating a diet that isn't too high in fat, protein, sugar, or processed foods. And here's some good news for you -- you're already doing this on the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic eating plan!
The Power of Touch
Other than eating a balanced diet, how can we de-stress and make the switch from indulging our overactive minds to enjoying our bodies after a hard day at the office or at home?
Besides an inspiring environment that includes romantic music and candlelight, Weston recommends trying the power of touch. It instantly sends the message that you are worthy of being touched and loved, and it helps many people relax within minutes.
Being the touch-er instead of (or in addition to) being the touch-ee can also help you de-stress, Weston adds. Whether you're on the giving or receiving end, you're still making a connection.
Three easy ways to use touch to increase desire is with:
1. Massage. Use a nice scented oil or a rich lotion (maybe one with shea butter) to help your hands glide over your partner's body. Don't worry if you aren't a trained massage professional. You have some options here:
- Teach your spouse how you want to be massaged by massaging him/her the same way.
- Rent a how-to massage video.
- If you really want to get serious, take a massage class along with your partner. Check at community centers, hospitals, spas, and sports clubs for classes in your area.
2. A back scratch. You don't need long nails for this. This may sound silly, but when I can't sleep at night because too much is going on in my head, I scratch my husband's back -- it relaxes me. And FYI, some men really like to have their backs scratched.
3. A dance for two. When was the last time you slow-danced with your spouse? Was it Uncle Bob's 50th birthday bash, or your best friend's wedding? Do you remember how nice that was to take a few minutes to hold him or her close and just feel each other and the music? When you get the chance, try the power of touch through the art of dance. Hint: It doesn't matter how great a dancer you are when there are only two of you in the room!
Work Your Body
Regular exercise is not only good for the huffing-and-puffing aerobic aspect of sex, but it also helps you feel better about your body. Even without any change in weight, the simple act of getting regular exercise helps overweight or obese people feel better about their bodies, according to research I've seen over the years. Weston agrees that if we feel better about our bodies -- as well as stronger and more energetic -- we're more likely to want to get close to someone sexually.
But now we have more scientific proof that exercise is a powerful libido-booster. Results from a recent five-year study of menopausal women show that exercise can fight the decreasing sex drive often seen in midlife women.
"Sexual satisfaction appears to increase with increasing frequency of exercise," explains Judith Gerber, PhD, a researcher with the University of Vermont, Burlington.
In fact, exercise was the only one of the various factors the researchers measured (including financial and career satisfaction, testosterone levels, etc.) that was linked to sexual function. They found the connection between exercise and sexual satisfaction at the beginning and the end of the five-year study.
Published Feb. 12, 2005.
SOURCES: Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 1981. Internal Medicine News, March 15, 2003. Ob/Gyn News, Dec. 1, 2003. Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, licensed marriage and family counselor/sex therapist; author, Sex Matters, Fair Oaks, Calif.