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Natural Health

Sexual Healing

by Angela Hynes

While the media may make it seem like everyone but you is having nonstop great sex, that's far from the truth: A Yale School of Medicine study discovered that female sexual dysfunction (FSD) affects 48 percent of women in the United States. FSD is an umbrella term that covers lack of desire, inability to become aroused or have orgasms and painful sex.

The issues frequently overlap, complicating the matter. For example, if you have trouble becoming aroused, you don't lubricate and then sex hurts. "And you can't be interested in sex if it's painful," says Cathy K. Naughton, M.D., director of the Metropolitan Urological Specialists Center for Sexual Health in St. Louis. "So it's a vicious cycle."

Some women, such as those for whom sex is painful because of certain physical conditions, may require the "big guns" of pharmaceuticals or surgery. But most women can find relief from the symptoms of the four most common causes of FSD by trying these natural solutions.

Three hidden causes of sex problems

1. Antidepressants and other drugs. Female sexual dysfunction symptoms are a common side effect of antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. Hormone-based contraceptives and blood pressure medications are other possible culprits. Women with diabetes or who have undergone chemotherapy also may tend to suffer from FSD.

2. Psychological problems. "Body-image issues play a huge role in female sexual dysfunction," says Cathy K. Naughton, M.D. In fact, studies have shown that societal emphasis on youth and slimness negatively impacts women's sexual function even more than menopause does.

3. Hysterectomy. If the uterus is removed, everything in the pelvis — bladder, small intestine, rectum — can become displaced; and after a partial hysterectomy, the cervix can drop down into the vagina. "As you can imagine, that can all cause pain," Naughton says.

If you have A LOW LIBIDO

After Gail Smith (not her real name) had a hysterectomy at age 52, her desire for sex plummeted. "My husband and I previously had a very active and pleasurable sex life, and we were both devastated," she says. Prescription hormones provided little help. Finally, Smith's doctor suggested the problem was "all in her head." "I'm both a registered nurse and a psychologist. I know my body very well," Smith says. "This was not psychological. I could feel it." While it's true that stress often causes loss of libido, so can hormone imbalances that result from antidepressant use, hysterectomy, hormonal birth control, pregnancy and perimenopause or menopause.

"The ovaries' production of hormones actually begins to change in our 30s," explains Genie James, M.M.Sc., executive director of The Natural Hormone Institute of America and co-author with gynecologist and compounding pharmacist C.W. Randolph, Jr., M.D., of the 2009 book In the Mood Again: Use the Power of Healthy Hormones to Reboot Your Sex Life—at Any Age. Starting then, she says, "Progesterone drops 120 times faster than estrogen, and when estrogen is dominant, low libido is a frequent result." We still make testosterone, which helps fuel our sex drive, James adds, but we also make more sexual hormone-binding globulin, which prevents it from circulating in the body.

NATURAL Rx

Use a nonprescription progesterone cream. Those that contain progesterone that has been derived from soy and wild yam and converted into bioidentical progesterone help mitigate estrogen dominance when rubbed into the skin. Look for brands with 450 milligrams of USP progesterone per ounce, such as Emerita Paraben- Free Pro-Gest ($29 for 2 ounces; emerita.com) or Natural Woman Progesterone Cream ($27 for 2 ounces; pronature.com).

Try Femmenessence MacaHarmony, a potent form of maca. The Peruvian root helps stimulate the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands to support and balance your hormones, including estrogen, progesterone and thyroid. ($35 for a one-month supply; naturalhi.com)

Check out traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Low libido can be a sign of kidney yang deficiency, says Phoenix-based Jamie Koonce, L.Ac., D.O.M., who recommends consulting a licensed TCM practitioner (find one at nccaom .org) and trying Passion Potion by Sage Solutions or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang Jia Wei by Blue Poppy Herbs ($17 for 90 caplets). Her home remedy suggestion is to add fresh lychee and durian fruit to your diet. Acupuncture can also successfully treat a low libido, says Koonce.

Consider bioidentical hormones Gail Smith eventually found a solution for her low libido from a personalized regimen that included estrogen, testosterone and DHEA, a precursor to male and female sex hormones that's secreted by the adrenal glands. She experienced some results immediately, and within a year her sex drive was back to where it had been. According to Genie James, personalization is the key to success. Bioidentical hormones, which have the same molecular structure as those naturally produced by your body, can restore optimum balance but only when they are compounded for your particular hormone levels, she explains.

Give aromatherapy a shot. Aura Cacia Love Potion essential oil could get your juices flowing. ($9 for 0.5 ounces; auracacia.com)

Get into therapy If body-image or relationship issues have caused you to lose interest in sex, you might want to seek therapy alone or with your partner. Locate a qualified sex therapist at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (aasect.org).

If you have DIFFICULTY GETTING AROUSED

Sometimes, the spirit is willing but the flesh just doesn't respond. No matter how diligently you and your partner work at it, you don't lubricate and your clitoris doesn't swell and become sensitized. This is the female equivalent of erectile dysfunction.

NATURAL Rx

Try L-arginine Like Viagra, this amino acid produces nitric oxide, which helps relax muscles and widen blood vessels. In men, this leads to erections; in women, to engorgement of the genital area. ArginMax for Women combines L-arginine with circulating-enhancing extracts of Korean ginseng, ginkgo and Damiana ($25 for a one- month supply; arginmax.com). Dream Cream, an L-arginine-based lotion, also claims to increase arousal. ($50 for 1 ounce; dreamcream.com)

Play around with sex toys A number of manufacturers now produce safe and green versions. Look for those made from silicone (pleasuremenow.com), Pyrex glass (glassfantasy.com), stainless steel (njoytoys.com) or wood (nobessence .com). All can be easily washed, a must after every use.

Find inspiration Check out adult sex education DVDs (about $30 for a three disc set; bettersex.com) or female-friendly erotica available at ellorascave.com.

If you have TROUBLE ACHIEVING ORGASM

Jennifer Justice, 34, of Doylestown, Pa., takes medications for chronic pain. When her soldier husband returned from a year of deployment in Afghanistan, she was dismayed to find that while she wanted sex and was able to get aroused, she was no longer able to have orgasms. For many other women, the problem stems less from a medical condition and more from a miscommunication with their partner or misinformation about how their own orgasms occur.

NATURAL Rx

Massage down below Zestra, a botanical arousal oil that increases sensitivity and sensation when applied to the vaginal area, worked for Justice. ($50 for 12 individual packs; zestra.com)

Seek help from Eros Not the love god but the NuGyn Eros Therapy device, a small gadget that draws blood to the clitoris. It's available by prescription, FDA-approved and covered by some insurance plans. ($400; eros-therapy.com)

Experiment solo or together Masturbating or using a vibrator might help you find your triggers. "Some women only climax with manual stimulation," says Naughton.

If you have PAIN DURING SEX

This is perhaps the most complex FSD. There can be a psychological component in women who have been abused or had a painful first sexual experience, but just as often there's a medical reason. The most common is dryness caused by atrophy of the vaginal tissues when estrogen levels drop. Breastfeeding can also cause temporary dryness. Other possible medical causes, says Naughton, are urinary tract or yeast infections, chronic vulva pain, constipation or hysterectomy (see box, pg 48). Whatever the cause, once you experience pain, your pelvic muscles can reflexively contract in anticipation when you attempt to have sex, making penetration even more painful.

NATURAL Rx

Get a lube job Aloe Cadabra is an all-natural lubricant made with organic aloe vera ($6 for 2.5 ounces; livewellbrands.com). Yes makes water- and oil-based lubricants with no petroleum products or irritants ($15 for 2.6 ounces; yesyesyes.org).

Eat roots and berries Koonce says that vaginal dryness can signal a kidney yin deficiency and suggests adding black mulberries and amaranth to yogurt, snacking on goji berries and spooning maca root powder into smoothies and cereals.

Try homeopathy Staphysagria is recommended for a tender vaginal area. Boiron pellets are available at health food stores for about $5.

Do your Kegels We tend to think of these exercises for tightening the pelvic-floor muscles, but "Kegels help you learn to relax those muscles as well," says Naughton.

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