–I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10: 10, NKJV)
Want a great sex life? Master your mental and physical health! By choosing habits and patterns that enhance your mental and physical health, you are able to most fully reap the rewards of one of life’s greatest pleasures and gifts from God…sex!
Sexual health as a marker of general health
The scriptures abound with verses that emphasize self-governance and avoidance of excess. Turns out, such excesses can damage your physical and mental health. Not only that, but they negatively impact your ability to fully enjoy sex.
Researchers note that optimal sexual health requires a complex interplay involving endocrine system function, neurological health, vascular health, and emotional wellness (Mollaioli, Ciocca, Limoncin, Di Sante, Gravina, Carosa, Lenzi, & Jannini, 2020). Said another way, any habit or pattern that damages your blood vessels, nerves, disrupts your hormones, or leads to emotional distress can have a significant negative impact on your ongoing ability to enjoy a healthy and robust sex life. The scriptures were given to us to enhance our lives, not restrict us from the pleasures God has given us to enjoy.
Benefits of a healthy sex life
A healthy sex life predicts an improved sense of well being, improved self-esteem, better relationships, and is associated with greater overall physical health (Mollaioli et al., 2020). With care, a healthy, satisfying and active sex life including intercourse can be enjoyed–even with relative intercourse frequency such as twice a month or more–into your 80’s and 90’s!!! (Lee, Nazroo, O’Connor, Blake, & Pendleton, 2016). Conversely, failure to guard your health can lead to numerous problems, including erectile dysfunction, anxiety, pain, dissatisfaction, and a low level of sexual desire (Lee et al., 2016). Indeed, sexual dysfunction can be an early warning sign of various physical and psychological disorders/ diseases (Bostock-Cox, 2015).
Habits and health factors that predict sexual dysfunction
Not every factor impacting our sex lives is directly within our control. However, the following habits or health factors ARE modifiable. Failure to change these habits, or address these health factors if present, strongly predicts sexual dysfunction:
- Smoking (raises erectile dysfunction risk by 50%, reduces stimulation to genitals by 30% immediately after smoking, ex-smokers have rates of erectile dysfunction 30% higher than non-smokers)
- Sedentary lifestyle/ no routine exercise
- Cardiovascular disease
- Self-rated health status of fair to poor health
- Alcohol consumption in excess (binge drinking increases risk of erection dysfunction in males, alcohol dependence in women decreases desire and quality of orgasm)
- Drug use/ abuse–including marijuana (for males) as it reduces testosterone levels, though marijuana may enhance drive in females (Feldhaus-Dahir, 2009; Lee et al., 2016; Mollaioli et al., 2020)
If you have any of the above conditions, addressing them through partnership with healthcare providers along with a serious pursuit of healthy dietary and lifestyle changes can mean improvements for your sex life now and into the future!!! Other factors that may reduce sexual function or desire include mental health conditions such as anxiety, psychological stress, and disharmony within a relationship. Certainly, low testosterone levels are a risk factor as well, for both men and women (Bostock-Cox, 2015).
Medications such as beta-blockers (often given for anxiety, heart rhythm disorders, and high blood pressure), estrogen hormone therapy, anti-depressant medications, and various psychiatric medications can negatively impact sexual function (Bostock-Cox, 2015; Feldhaus-Dahir, 2009). If you have concerns that your medications may be impeding your sex life, discuss such concerns with your health care provider. Many times alternative medications might be found to treat the underlying medical concern while having less of an impact on sexual function (Bostock-Cox, 2015).
Obesity and sexual dysfunction
Obesity negatively impacts sexual health due to a number of factors. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes occur more commonly in persons who are obese (Mollaioli et al., 2020). Further, obese people experience negative psychological impacts such as depression, perceiving/ experiencing social stigmas, and perceiving/ experiencing weight-related discrimination.
Research notes as many as 1 in 5 persons with obesity experience pain during sex, sexual dissatisfaction (females), erectile dysfunction (males), and poor arousal levels/ low levels of sexual desire (Mollaioli et al., 2020). For men, a body mass index (BMI) over 28.7 is linked to a 30% increase in erectile dysfunction compared those with a normal BMI under 25. Complications from overweight/ obesity can involve dysfunction of the lining of the blood vessels leading to a decreased ability for the vessels to dilate even before the onset of other cardiovascular disease features (Mollaioli et al., 2020). Plant-based diets are strongly associated with reduced rates of obesity and obesity related illnesses (see linked post for data and references).
Physical activity and sexual health
Research has demonstrated improvements in blood sugar control as well as improved vascular function and lower rates of erectile dysfunction for those that exercise routinely at moderate to vigorous levels (Mollaioli et al., 2020). One study found that 8 weeks of exercise lasting 45-60 minutes per day improved erections in men with hypertension when compared against a control group that did not exercise. Another study found exercising 150 minutes per week over a 3 month period resulted in significant improvements in erection quality and improvements in the health of the cells lining the blood vessels of the participants (Mollaioli et al., 2020).
For women, a lack of exercise doubles the rates of sexual dysfunction! For those dependent on medications for erectile dysfunction, exercise nearly doubled the efficacy of these drugs!! Three hours of aerobic exercise per week over a three month period for men increased the erection medication efficacy to nearly 80% versus approximately 40% in the control group! (Mollaioli et al., 2020).
In additional to improved vascular health and blood sugar control, routine exercise improves other factors related to sexual health. Exercise improves self-esteem, body image, can improve mood, sleep quality, and can reduce anxiety and depression severity (Mollaioli et al., 2020). For the sake of immune system health and hormonal balance (including testosterone to cortisol ratios), such exercise bouts should be kept to within an hour or less per episode (see my post “Healthy Lifestyle & Still Getting Sick? Part 2: Training Approaches” for more information on optimal versus harmful amounts of exercise and training in terms of immune system function and hormonal balances).
Mediterranean diet protects against erectile dysfunction & sexual dysfunction in males and females
A Mediterranean diet has demonstrated efficacy in helping people maintain a lower BMI as well as improving sexual health and preventing erectile and sexual dysfunction (Mollaioli et al., 2020). Mediterranean diets are predominantly plant-based!!! Legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, with very limited or no intake of meat, dairy, or processed foods characterizes the Mediterranean diet. Not only does the plant-dominant Mediterranean diet improve your sex life, it is also delicious!!!
A reduction in weight for obese participants resulted in improvements in the function of insulin, boosted testosterone, and boosted erection quality in diabetic and non-diabetic participants (Mollaioli et al., 2020). Mediterranean diets improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, provide substantial amounts of antioxidants, and are believed to improve vascular function. Not only does the Mediterranean diet address the physical risk factors for sexual dysfunction, but research has also demonstrated reductions in anxiety and depression upon adopting the diet (Mollaioli et al., 2020).
Insufficient stress management can sabotage your sex life
Its very important to note that I listed “insufficient stress management” as opposed “stress” as a source of sabotage for your sex life. As I explain with supporting research in a separate post titled “Stress & Anxiety can be…Good?,” stress itself can be a motivator and driver of goal achievement and success. However, it is important that stress is offset by restorative habits and rest time that allow for proper resetting of hormone levels and recovery in between stress events (Dhabhar, 2018).
Failure to recover properly in between stress events leads to chronic elevations of cortisol and decreases subsequently in testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone and other sex related hormones (Mollaioli et al., 2020). These hormone imbalances lead to decreases in sexual desire and decreased physical arousal. An interesting research study noted that men taking medications for erectile dysfunction who were trained in diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing and muscle relaxation techniques had improved erections over and above those who took medications alone! (Kalaitzidou, Venetikou, Konstadinidis, Artemiadis, Chrousos, & Darviri, 2014 as cited in Mollaioli et al., 2020).
Researchers also noted lower levels of morning cortisol in the men that performed the abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques (Kalaitzidou et al., 2014 as cited in Mollaioli et al., 2020). Even when psychologically aroused, genital arousal can be hampered when people report feeling high levels of chronic stress. Distractions in addition to hormonal factors can interfere with physical arousal (Mollaioli et al., 2020). As I note in the post “Stress & Anxiety can be…Good?,” stress can NOT be avoided and has numerous positive effects. However, it is important that relaxation techniques such as meditation, practice of faith, and other mitigating practices are used to allow the body and mind to reset.
Pornography and sexual satisfaction
Frequent use of pornography has been repeatedly linked in the research to decreased sexual satisfaction (Miller, McBain, Li, & Raggatt, 2019). Also, the use of pornography could not be attributed to any underlying relationship dissatisfaction, meaning persons were not driven to the pornography due to dissatisfaction already existing in a relationship (Miller et al., 2019). As such, pornography use regardless of relationship satisfaction resulted in a reduction in sex life satisfaction!!!
The researchers also found masturbation tied to porn use frequency was negatively associated with sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction (Miller et al., 2019). The researchers noted potential causative factors associated with frequent pornography related masturbation may involve increases in post-orgasm refractory periods leading to decreased arousal when attempting sex with a partner. Separate research notes that pornography use can increase a person’s dissatisfaction with their partner’s sexual appearance and sexual performance (Zillmann & Bryant, 1988 as cited in Miller et al., 2019).
Research into pornography and sexual / relationship satisfaction is rife with confounding factors such as religious views, morality, factors leading to use of pornography in the first place, etc. The strength of the negative effects also vary in the research. However, as noted already, numerous research studies across various nations and even various time periods tend to repeatedly find negative associations between pornography frequency and sexual satisfaction (Miller et al., 2019)–a theme that can hardly be ignored if you desire improvements in your own sex life. I tackle the subject of porn and sexual health in greater detail in my post “How Porn is Wrecking Our Sex Lives (and more): Current Evidence.“
If you want to maximize your sexual health and enjoyment, take care of your body and your mind!! The choices you make in your past-time activities, the foods you eat, your decision to exercise or not exercise, and your ability to find and practice restorative activities all impact your ability to enjoy one of our greatest God-given experiences–SEX! Maximize your physical health, maximize your ability to manage stress and cope with the challenges you face, and maximize your pleasure!!! Live well!
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed! Feel free to share this post, and/ or sign-up on my mailing list to receive notice when I release new posts!! Sincerely, Donovan
Bostock-Cox, B. (2015). Long term conditions, medication and sexual health. Practice Nurse, 45(11), 22–25. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/ehost/detail/detail?vid=8&sid=59399d50-2488-48ee-858a-698c9443ddea%40sdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=111058850&db=cin20
Dhabhar F. S. (2018). The short-term stress response – Mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 49, 175–192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004
Feldhaus-Dahir, M. (2009). The Causes and Prevalence of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder: Part I. Urologic Nursing, 29(4), 259–263. Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=8&sid=5acbcc7d-b7ca-426f-b4f5-bf837533a2be%40sdc-v-sessmgr03
Lee, D. M., Nazroo, J., O’Connor, D. B., Blake, M., & Pendleton, N. (2016). Sexual Health and Well-being Among Older Men and Women in England: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(1). pp. 133-144. ISSN 0004-0002
Miller, D. J., McBain, K. A., Li, W. W., & Raggatt, P. T. F. (2019). Pornography, preference for porn‐like sex, masturbation, and men’s sexual and relationship satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 26(1), 93–113. https://doi-org.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/10.1111/pere.12267
Mollaioli, D., Ciocca, G., Limoncin, E., Di Sante, S., Gravina, G. L., Carosa, E., Lenzi, A., & Jannini, E. A. F. (2020). Lifestyles and sexuality in men and women: the gender perspective in sexual medicine. Reproductive Biology & Endocrinology, 18(1), 1–11. https://doi-org.lopesalum.idm.oclc.org/10.1186/s12958-019-0557-9