Sex is one of the simplest things in the world, and one of the most complicated. If your libido is flagging, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch back to “on.” “Libido is driven by a number of factors,” says Michael Ingber, MD, a specialist in female pelvic medicine and urology based in Denville, New Jersey. “The sexual response cycle requires a lot of things to happen.” That process can be affected by diet, lifestyle, stress and hormone levels—just to name a few variables. If your desire is derailed and you want to get back on track, here’s where doctors say you should start.
“Walking or doing some type of movement exercise daily reduces inflammation, boosts sex drive and improves the blood flow to the sex organs,” says Yeral Patel, MD, a functional medicine physician in Newport Beach, California. “This small adjustment can make a big difference.”
“Exercise also can increase the output of natural endorphins, making one feel calm and sexy,” says Felice Gersh, MD, an OB/GYN and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group in Irvine, California. “Of course, exercise helps both males and females become buff—and a body you feel sexy in goes a long way to increasing the desire for sex.”
The Remedy Rx: Aim to get 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, including at least two sessions of strength training weekly.
“Chocolate contains many mood-enhancing and energy-producing chemicals, so it’s no wonder we associate chocolate with friskiness, happiness and sexual cravings and satisfaction,” says Anna Cabeca, DO, an OB-GYN and anti-aging physician and author of The Hormone Fix. “It contains theobromine (a mood elevator), caffeine and sugar (a mood elevator and energy booster) and the endorphin Phenylethylamine (PEA) which produces an energy boost.”
The Remedy Rx: Try a few squares (a 1 to 2 oz. serving) of dark chocolate for dessert.
“Chronic stress keeps this sex drive low,” says Myles Spar, MD, MPH, an internal medicine physician and author of Optimal Men’s Health. “The best way to fix this is to learn how to manage stress so that the body is not always in fight-or-flight mode, feeling like you are under attack all the time.”
The Remedy Rx: “Daily habits like journaling, breathwork, mindfulness practice, meditation, gentle yoga and even prayer have been shown to significantly lower the sympathetic nervous system overdrive state and create a sense of relaxation,” says Spar. “Then sex drive increases, because the brain senses that it’s time for reproduction. It’s all evolutionary.”
“Sleep is important. There have been several studies that show a lack of sleep negatively affects sex drive. So make sure you’re well-rested or you won’t be up for the task,” says Ingber.
The Remedy Rx: Experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep nightly for the optimal performance of your heart, brain, metabolism—and sex drive.
“Overweight and obese patients have increased inflammation which causes hormone imbalance and thus, can cause low libido and low sex drive,” says Patel.
The Remedy Rx: Stay in a healthy weight range with regular exercise and a balanced diet.
“Most processed foods contain hormone-altering chemicals that can wreak havoc on (among other things) sex drive,” says Patel.
The Remedy Rx: Instead of packaged foods, Patel recommends eating beets and spinach, which are high in natural nitrates that help increase blood flow to the sex organs; lycopene-rich foods such as citrus and tomatoes, which also increase blood flow; and foods high in flavonoids, such as dark chocolate, blueberries, strawberries and green tea. Those help strengthen and heal blood vessels.
“Oysters have been recognized for centuries as a classic aphrodisiac,” says Cabeca. “Oysters contain dopamine, a hormone known to increase libido. Oysters and most shellfish also contain arginine, an amino acid that the body uses to make nitric oxide. Nitric oxide will relax and expand your blood vessels, much like the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, thereby increasing libido.” Avocados are high in vitamin B6, which helps increase hormone production and boost libido for both sexes, she adds.
The Remedy Rx: Indulge in the occasional oyster dinner. Avocados can be a part of your daily menu—on salads, in smoothies, or as a side dish for lean protein.
“Toxins are another stressor on our bodies that can impact hormone production and can bind to hormone receptors,” says Stephanie Gray, DNP, MS, founder of the Integrative Health and Hormone Clinic in Hiawatha, Iowa. “Work to remove toxic chemicals from your home and from your personal care products.”
The Remedy Rx: One of the common toxins is plastics. “Plastic often contains bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that can have negative effects on our reproductive organs and hormones, specifically the breasts in females and prostate in males,” says Gray. “Some personal care products also contain parabens and phthalates (more endocrine disruptors), so read the labels and avoid products that simply list added ‘fragrance,’ since this catch-all term sometimes means hidden phthalates.”
“Too often patients see me stating, ‘My doctor already checked my hormones and told me they were normal’ when that’s not truly the case,” says Gray. “Maybe they had an FSH (menopause) marker checked but didn’t actually have sex hormone levels like estradiol, estrone, progesterone, and testosterone checked.”
The Remedy Rx: “Beyond having the levels checked, find a hormone specialist who can properly interpret your hormone levels and formulate a game plan to improve them,” says Gray. “Just because levels register in the normal ‘range’ doesn’t mean they are optimal.”
“Just like men, testosterone is the main steroid hormone which causes libido to increase in women. So believe it or not, we often give this to women who have a low libido,” says Ingber. “Also, hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin play a role.”
The Remedy Rx: Certain prescription medications, such as Addyi and Vyleesi, are prescribed to treat decreased sexual desire in women, says Ingber. If low testosterone is a cause of a man’s low sex drive, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is available.
“Ristela (Bonafide) is a new natural therapy which is a plant-based blend of french maritime pine bark extract, antioxidants and naturally occurring amino acids. It was shown to increase physical arousal by 75% after only two months of taking it,” says Ingber.
The Remedy Rx: See your healthcare provider about whether a nutraceutical is a good option for you.
“I am often asked about low libido and what options are available for women who are experiencing a low sexual desire with their partner,” says Lyndsey Harper, MD, founder of Rosy, an app for women with decreased sexual desire. “My answer is always the same— regaining your sexual desire is like setting a new goal. It requires a commitment and dedication to trying something new that may be out of your comfort zone and sticking with it until you reach your goal.”
The Remedy Rx: “One of the evidence-based interventions I recommend is reading a romantic or sexy short story before you plan on having sex,” says Harper. “Reading a sexy story can rev up sexual energy and open up the room for pleasure and excitement. Once you have a positive and pleasurable sexual experience, this in and of itself will help you regain intimacy and create a physical connection and appreciation with your partner.”
“A diet high in green leafy vegetables, beets, and citrus fruits and melons is a great way to raise the production of nitric oxide, the gas signaling agent that causes vascular engorgement of the penis and of the female labia minora and clitoris,” says Gersh.
The Remedy Rx: Are you getting enough? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 2 cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day. (But more wouldn’t hurt.)
“Antioxidants can greatly aid in the enjoyment of sex by increasing genital blood flow, lowering body-wide inflammation, and improving levels of sex hormones,” says Gersh. “Some supplements can also raise levels of nitric oxide, providing its precursor, like beet powder and Vitamin C.”
The Remedy Rx: “For supplements, I’d suggest maca as an overall best aphrodisiac,” says Gersh. “But don’t forget a multivitamin, vitamin D and K, zinc, magnesium, omega-3, probiotics, B12, folate and a B complex.”
“If there are relationship problems, they must be addressed first thing,” says Gersh. “Relationship discord causes tremendous stress, which lowers libido. Stress of all types must be handled, and most particularly when the stress involves that couple.”
The Remedy Rx: If you have conflicts to work out with your partner, counseling and stress-reduction exercises are smart strategies. “Try meditation or guided imagery to improve tolerance of another and of oneself,” says Gersh. “Celebrate the little beauties of life, and try to keep the larger issues emotionally managed.”
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.