Are we in some kind of alternate universe where the American Psychiatric Association diagnoses a woman who isn’t that into sex with a mental disorder? It seems so. Flibanserin, the female sexual-dysfunction drug marketed as Addyi, has recently been approved by the FDA as a remedy for a premenopausal woman’s lack of interest in sex. The official diagnosis, generalized hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), is included in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).
As a practitioner of Oriental medicine, I know lack of libido is an important issue for many women, but a mental disorder needing pharmaceutical intervention? Please. Our culture is still dominated by masculine values, and many women have internalized these values without knowing it. Advertising and popular media lead us to believe all women should feel sexy all the time or something is wrong. However, for some women sex is just not that big a deal. They are fulfilled with the work they do, the connection to community networks, loved ones, and often their dedication to a spiritual path as well.
I will leave it to the investigative journalists to give you the skinny on the controversial approval process, the significant side effects of the drug, and the slim odds that Addyi is even effective. It isn’t like Viagra, by the way, which enhances physical arousal. Addyi claims to enhance desire, a complex and mysterious sort of alchemical magic not easily contained in pill form. What concerns me in the development and marketing of Addyi is the complete lack of understanding of the unity of body, heart, mind, and spirit that is basic common sense in the ancient wisdom traditions such as Oriental medicine.
In modern culture, we no longer know the experience of being whole, of our bodies being in harmonious alignment with our hearts and minds. We act as though the universal laws that have governed human beings forever do not bind us. Women are now working long hours both in and out of the home, taking care of kids and aging parents, trying to keep up with friends, school and community activities, demanding jobs, long commutes, household chores, and general physical maintenance to keep the body going. Add in the excessive mental stimulation from computers and other devices that focuses our vital energy in our heads for an average of 11 hours every day and you can see why it may be difficult to reconnect to the natural desires of our hearts and bodies. How can we reasonably expect that in the midst of all this frenzied doing, a woman is going to notice the elusive spark of desire?
I hear the longing for intimacy, comfort, and release from my women patients. Some are tired of feeling disappointed in this area of their lives and may have given up, except to hope for a miracle cure. (Hint: Addyi’s not it!) I encourage you to explore how to get back into relationship with your sexuality by aligning the desires of body, heart and spirit. When we embrace all aspects of ourselves we are much more likely to experience the joy and satisfaction of being fully embodied as a woman. This is important, and not only for ourselves: We can offer our own healing, our wholeness, to the healing of the world.
Oriental medicine would not classify lack of desire as a disease, but rather a symptom of imbalance in a complex network of relationships. You can use this symptom as a signpost to guide you to solutions that make sense to your unique situation. Start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable, safe place, without any distractions or devices. Breathe slowly and repeatedly into the heart and then deeper into the belly. Ask yourself: What is important to me about this lack of desire? What do I know about it? What helps? How is the relationship with my partner? How’s my stress level? Am I getting enough sleep, whole food, and exercise? How else in my life do I numb out or avoid feeling?
Listening to your answers to these questions will help you see the bigger picture of who you are in relationship to this symptom. We need time and awareness to reconnect to ourselves and to guide the energy down from the head and into the heart and body. See if any of the following suggestions resonate for you. You may get the best results by using all these methods, plus whatever else your inner knowing reveals to you.
Be honest. Owning our needs is an essential step to finding authentic satisfaction. Be curious, playful, and honest with yourself. What helps you relax, open up, be vulnerable, and increases your desire? Not what you think your partner wants, but what, exactly, do your heart and body need? Talk to your partner and have him/her do the same exercise and take turns giving each other what you need.
Get physical. Move or dance around the house, exploring different music and rhythms from very slow to ecstatic. This will help you get back in touch with the physicality of the body and the richness of your feelings. It also serves to shake out any built up mental or physical rigidity and stiffness. Accompanied by your partner if possible so you are both warmed up and embodied for your sensual dance together.
Chill out. If you feel tense, anxious, get a bit down or wired and crave alcohol or carbs in the late afternoon, try using some neurotransmitter support. I recommend 200 mg each of L-theanine1 and 5 HTP2 before sex or at bedtime. They will help you will feel relaxed and able to smile again within 30-60 minutes, without the depressant effects of alcohol. If PMS is an issue for you, as it is for so many women, look to a holistic approach for solutions.
Try plant medicines. Get an herbal formula designed specifically for you from a practitioner of Oriental medicine to address the pattern of imbalance that may be causing your lack of desire. Or, if you have access to medical marijuana, try a very small amount and see what happens. Some of my patients swear that the judicious use of this plant medicine works wonders for them. They say it increases pleasurable bodily sensations, sexual responsiveness, and satisfaction. Most of these women tell me they respect marijuana as a medicine and use it only before having sex with their partners.
It is just common sense that if we find pleasure and satisfaction in our relationship to desire and sex, we will be much more likely to want to repeat the process. I encourage you to play and find what makes you happy in this realm. May you smile and know satisfaction!
- Kimura K, et al L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses . Biol Psychol. Jan;74(1):39_45. Epub 2006 Aug 22. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051106001451)
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Mary Saunders has over 25 years of experience in Oriental medicine, Mary is a practitioner, an educator, and a coach who speaks from a place of direct experience. She is the author of Rhythms Of Change: Reclaiming Your Health Using Ancient Wisdom And Your Own Common Sense.