While you may assume that issues such as low libido, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm are strictly related to sexual function or sex organs, there is another, more holistic interpretation, popular in traditional Chinese medicine, known as “heart yin deficiency.” Learn about “kidney qi deficiency,” and other imbalances which may, according to the traditional Chinese system of medicine, interfere with your sex life and sexual pleasure.
Sexuality is a complex intersection of biological, psychological, spiritual and other factors. Some people believe that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may be better than Western medicine in addressing these complexities. In fact, acupuncture is one of the most common treatments used in TCM to help improve a man or woman’s sexual health.
“Acupuncture is a simple and relatively safe way of restoring qi to those who are deficient,” says Baljit Khamba, ND, an assistant professor of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University California and a naturopathic doctor in San Diego, referring to the life energy Chinese medicine praciioners believe enhances health and libido.
While Western medicine sees the body as a series of mechanical, chemical, and electrical circuits, to the Chinese, the body is seen as more holistic. A healthy body, and a vibrant sex life, emerge when all our parts are in harmony.
All aspects of TCM spring from this outlook. In acupuncture, the needles aim to remove blockages or imbalances in the qi energy that connects the various organs, thereby helping life force and sexual energy to flow.
Although there’s little research on acupuncture and sexual health, one small study, published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, is intriguing.
In this study, 35 men and women had sexual dysfunction, likely caused by the antidepressants they were taking for their anxiety or other mood disorders. Some 50 to 90 percent of people on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) experience sexual dysfunction, the study authors noted.
Patients were treated with nine sessions of acupuncture, each session lasting 15 minutes. Some of the acupuncture points used in the study — called kidney 3, governing vessel 4, urinary bladder 23, heart 7, and pericardium 6 — are common points for the TCM diagnoses mentioned above, “conditions which often include sexual dysfunction,” says Dr. Khamba, one of the study’s coauthors.
By the end of the study, women reported improved libidos while men experienced improvement in multiple sexual functions, including erection, timing of ejaculation, and ability to orgasm.
Acupuncture “is a particularly useful way of treating the root cause” of any sexual dysfunction, Khamba says.
That’s why she frequently uses acupuncture, along with lifestyle, nutrition, and other natural health treatments, to help patients improve their sexual health. If they have a condition that affects libido, enjoyment of sex, or ability to orgasm — whether that’s due to hormonal issues, endometriosis, depression, headaches, fatigue, or others causes — an acupuncturist will look for the underlying TCM diagnosis and use needles in the points appropriate for that diagnosis.
Because they treat the underlying energetic condition, needles are not always placed where it makes sense to the client. Someone coming to an acupuncturist for pain in their pelvis, for example, might find few or no needles placed in that trouble spot.
Anita Sadaty, MD, a gynecologist in Roslyn, New York, is another fan of acupuncture for boosting sexual health. In her view, one of its most powerful effects is through the stress-hormone pathway.
“Acupuncture is an amazing technique for reducing and balancing stress hormone levels, which in turn impact state of mind, relaxation, and, therefore, desire,” she says, although she adds that anyone with a sexual dysfunction should have a workup by a physician to check for physical conditions or medication they take that can inhibit desire or sexual enjoyment.