The complex tangle called the female libido

My last column brought me some trouble. Although it was about men’s health, the trouble came from the women in their lives.

My last column brought me some trouble. Although it was about men’s health, the trouble came from the women in their lives.

One woman, in an office down the hall from mine called out, “Sex, three times a week. Are you crazy?” Another woman in line in at the grocery store complained, “Now my husband says if he gets prostate cancer it will be my fault!” Obviously there is a disconnect between the needs of men and women.

A woman’s libido is much more complex than a man’s. If it was simple, drug companies would have several patent female libido drugs on the market and be making a fortune.

Let’s peer into the complex tangle called female libido. Starting with the brain, there is a difference between men and woman. In men, sex happens in the hypothalamic nucleus. This is considered a primitive part of the brain. On average, a man’s hypothalamic nucleus is two and half time larger than a woman’s. A woman’s brain is much more involved in sex. Areas of the brain driven by hormones (the primitive brain) are involved, but so is the cerebral cortex. This is the “thinking brain.” This is part of the brain that surveys its surroundings, assessing possibilities, noting trouble or opportunities.

This part of the brain has difficulty relaxing. To enjoy sex, a woman’s cerebral cortex needs to turn off. In men, they can enjoy sex and still have their cerebral cortex in full function. The implication here is that a woman needs to surrender to the man. Or in other words, he can survey the surrounding while she lets go.

If a woman does not feel safe, has had a sexual trauma in life, or simply does not feel loving, this area of the brain turns on with sex as opposed turning off. This kills the enjoyment.

All this takes place in a woman’s brain because of one little neurotransmitter called dopamine. It may be possible that all the woman needs is a little more dopamine to make her more amorous.

Many woman find good dark chocolate to be an aphrodisiac. Interestingly enough, chocolate encourages the release of dopamine. My favourite herb for releasing dopamine is kava kava (Piper mysticum).

This herb is illegal for sale in Canada because of an uninformed bureaucratic error but readily available online and in the United States. Is the perfect herb to quiet down the over-thinking cerebral cortex and promote loving feelings.

If this sounds too dangerous, passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) will help relax the mind and let the dopamine flow.

I always assess a woman’s adrenal glands when she is troubled by low libido. The primitive brain (limbic brain where the hypothalamus lives) has a very close relationship to the adrenal glands. Both are completely wrapped in the fight or flight response of stress. When a woman is flying from one task to another, forgetting to take time for herself and constantly taking care of everyone but herself, the result is adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands use up the sex hormone progesterone in making stress hormones.

Low progesterone, low sex drive. This is why some couples go on holidays to have sex: no kids, no parents, no cooking, cleaning, emails, walks to shovel, etc. and etc.

There are some interesting herbs from India that support adrenal function and have reputed aphrodisiac effect on woman.

One is a close cousin of dinner table asparagus (Asparagus racemosus) called Shatavari in India. Shatavari translates to “She with a thousand husbands.” The translation pretty much sums up the effects of this herb.

Another herb from India with reputed aphrodisiac effects is ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). This herb translates from Hindi as “Smells like mares urine, strong like stallion.” This translation sums up ashwagandha’s power as well.

There are a number of scents with reputed aphrodiasic powers. Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) has the power to heighten the awareness of the senses.

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) stimulates the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during sex causing contractions of the uterus.

Rose (Rosa otta) is the scent of love filling the brain with dopamine. The three scents combined in a massage oil make a passionate addition to any amorous encounter.

Abrah Arneson is a local clinical herbalist. This column is intended for information purposes only.