Sexual health is an essential component of your overall wellness. The CDC defines sexual health as a “state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” While we have a 360-degree approach to wellness, our primary focus of this article is to explore the physiological and anatomical aspects of sex that affect your health.
The Birds and The Bees: Optimizing Sexual Health
Men’s Sexual Health
When it comes to sex, men and women have different issues. Dr. Alice breaks down the primary issues men experience with sex: “Physiologically, the thing we always hear for the men is erectile dysfunction (ED). Erectile dysfunction medication is one of the top-selling pharmaceuticals right now. First and foremost, your nervous system is very involved with this. In medical school, we referred to the process as ‘point and shoot.’ The ‘p’ stands for parasympathetic, and the ‘s’ stands for sympathetic — these are two parts of the autonomic nervous system that dictates whether you have an erection, and also if you have an orgasm.”
Essentially, the parasympathetic nervous system dictates whether you get an erection while the sympathetic nervous system dictates whether you can ejaculate.
If you’re a man, you may find it more challenging to get an erection when you’re stressed. It’s very common for men who are stressed or distracted to have difficulty getting and maintaining an erection. If you’re actively cutting for fitness purposes, you may also notice a difference in your sex drive.
Women’s Sexual Health
Women’s sexual health is a little more complex. For many women, sexual arousal is linked to feeling safe, secure, and connected. Dr. Alice says, “I have come across women menopausal women who still have high libidos. I have come across women in their teens or twenties who have no libido. This one [women’s sexual health issues] is a little more complicated — I ask women if they’re on antidepressants or birth control. The biggest irony of birth control is that it will tank testosterone, so women can take it and not get pregnant, but then they have no sex drive.”
There are anatomical changes that occur in a woman’s vagina pre-menopause and during menopause. Vaginas are naturally ribbed on the inside, but women begin to experience vaginal atrophy as they grow older. The skin will become thinner, and sex will get more painful. Dr. Alice says that women can opt to take preventative measures to avoid this issue by taking vaginally administered estrogen. It’s completely safe and keeps the tissue healthy.
What’s the Connection Between Sex Hormones and Sex?
Dr. Alice says, “For the most part, if you have higher levels of the sex hormones, testosterone in particular, and women need it too — then you’re most likely going to have higher levels of sex drive.” There are certain situations when someone can have high testosterone levels but still have erectile dysfunction. These situations are often linked to mental health or other underlying physical health factors.
A Few Ways to Optimize Your Sexual Health
Mental, physical, and sexual health are all connected. If you’re looking to optimize your sexual health, Dr. Alice recommends getting adequate sleep and meditating because it benefits your parasympathetic nervous system. You should also understand that specific nutrients lead to optimal health within the body (hint: celery, beets, and watermelon are linked to heightened sexual activity and pleasure). Research suggests that watching too much pornography is linked to erectile dysfunction (ED). If you have any questions or concerns about your sexual health after reading this article, we recommend visiting a licensed medical professional to discuss ways to improve your sexual health.