Many things can impact your sexual health. These include your body, identity, age, and relationships. And experts agree that “sexual health” isn’t just your physical health. It includes feeling safe, secure, and fulfilled regardless of what sexual activity you engage in.
The truth is that many women struggle with their sexual health. These are some of the most common problems:
- Less interest in sex
- Problems getting lubricated (wet) before and during sex
- Sex can cause pain or discomfort
- It’s difficult to have an orgasm
- Muscle spasms that interfere with penetration
These issues may sound familiar to you. Up to 40% of women around the world have had problems with sex in their lives. Unfortunately, many women first look for solutions to these issues by trying natural supplements, sexual wellness devices, or home remedies.
Before we get into the options, let’s first define what each option means.
- Sex: Sex is not only penis-in-vagina penetration. It includes all behaviors and activities humans engage in to express sexuality, such as vaginal, oral, or anal penetration or masturbation (touching oneself).
- Libido: Your “sex drive,” or desire to have sex and think about it, is called Libido.
- Arousal: Sexual arousal refers to your body’s emotional and physical response to sexual stimulation. It’s the feeling of being “turned on.”
- Orgasm: Orgasm refers to the emotional and physical peak of sexual excitement. Orgasm is often triggered by arousal, particularly during sex and masturbation.
A note about the language in this guide: Although the wording here is centered on cisgender women with vaginas, we want to emphasize that women’s bodies (and genitals) come in all shapes and sizes.
This evidence-based guide provides information on over-the-counter and sexual wellness products and lifestyle choices that can help you live a healthy sex life.
Over-The-Counter Supplements That Can Increase Sex Or Libido
Yes. Many products on the market claim to support sexual health, and the options keep growing. Over-the-counter supplements are the first choice of many women who want to make a change in their sex life, but you may wonder: Do they work?
1. Chasteberry (Vitex. agnus.castus)
Chasteberry is a Mediterranean plant traditionally used for skin conditions and reproductive health. It is also known as vitex, chaste trees, and monk’s pepper. Some evidence suggests that chaste berries may have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also alter hormone activity and production, including estrogen and progesterone — essential hormones for your sexual health.
Perhaps. Chasteberry was found to improve vaginal tone, lubrication, and comfort during sex in at least one study. Thus, Chasteberry may also be beneficial for women with PMS or in menopause.
Although Chasteberry seems safe overall, some people may experience mild side effects such as an upset stomach, headaches, or itching. Furthermore, it is unknown if Chasteberry is safe for hormone-sensitive patients (such as certain cancers). In addition, Chasteberry can interact negatively with antipsychotics and birth control pills.
L-arginine is an amino acid. Your body uses amino acids to build proteins. Although your body can usually make all of the L-arginine that it needs, you can consume it by eating the following:
- Whole grains
L-arginine is the raw material your body needs to make nitric dioxide, a molecule that opens your blood vessels. As a result, it makes it easier for blood to flow to your genitals. Blood flow is essential for sexual arousal, orgasm, as well as keeping your vagina healthy and nourished.
Some evidence suggests that L-arginine may increase libido and decrease vaginal dryness. However, L-arginine is a combination supplement, which can contain more than one ingredient (such as ArginMax). Therefore, it’s unclear whether L-arginine alone has positive effects in research studies or only works when combined with other ingredients.
L-arginine can be used safely by many people and has few side effects. However, L-arginine can make herpes worse and interact with other medications. It can also cause side effects in some people if taken as a supplement.
- Changes in kidney function
- Low blood pressure
You can increase your L-arginine intake by adding L-arginine rich foods to your diet. L-arginine-rich foods include:
- Sesame seeds
Ginseng, a traditional medicinal plant, lowers stress levels, increases energy levels, and improves blood circulation. Ginseng, like L-arginine, may increase blood flow to your genitals which can improve arousal and orgasm, and vaginal health.
It works for women who are menopausal. In 2016, a meta-analysis found that Korean red ginseng (KRG) increased sexual arousal among this group. Another study, published in 2019, found that Ginseng supplementation not only improved sexual function but also led to a greater quality of life and improvement in menopause symptoms.
KRG was found to improve premenopausal women’s sexual function in a 2015 study. However, it did not perform better than the placebo (sham) treatment. For determining if ginseng can be beneficial for premenopausal females, more research is required.
There are many types of ginseng. However, many sexual-health studies focus on Korean red Ginseng, which is an Asian version of ginseng. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that Asian ginseng works well for up to six months, but it is not safe long-term.
4. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba, a traditional medicinal plant, has increased concentration, memory, blood flow, and anxiety. In addition, Ginkgo Biloba has been traditionally used to improve sexual health.
Ginkgo is not known to be effective for sexual problems or any other health conditions. Despite its reputation of being good for your sex life, most research studies have found that it works no better than placebo (sham) treatment does. One small study found that sex therapy with ginkgo increased sexual desire, but not as much as sex therapy alone.
Ginkgo is safe for most people, and it has very mild side effects.
Maca is a South American edible plant. It has been used traditionally to treat infertility, increase libido, and balance hormones. However, its exact mechanism is still unknown. It could be an adaptogen (an herb that helps your body react to stress), or it may have mild estrogen-like effects on the body.
You can prepare Maca as a dish: baked, roasted, or as a culinary ingredient. You can mix it into smoothies and other recipes. It is sometimes made as a fermented beverage in some cultures.
Unfortunately, most published research on Maca is focused on its effects on men. A few studies have been conducted on maca’s effects on women’s sexual health. Although the benefits of Maca for menopause are not clear, there has been some evidence. Maca might also be beneficial for sexual side effects of antidepressant medication.
Consuming Maca as food is safe (maximum 3g per day). If you take it in large quantities, like a pill, it can be slightly more dangerous. Raw maca must be cooked before consumption. Maca can disrupt your sleep, so it is best to avoid maca consumption at night.
6. Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris)
Puncturevine, a Mediterranean plant, has been traditionally used to increase sexual function in men. It could raise testosterone levels, a hormone related to sexual desire (libido) and orgasm in men and women.
Overall, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that puncturevine supports sexual wellness in women. This is especially true since there haven’t been any well-designed trials. However, one small study showed that puncturevine positively affected 60 women who used it for one month.
- Physical arousal
- Satisfaction with sexual partners
In several other studies, however, it did not perform better than placebo.
There are some potential risks associated with puncturevine, such as unwanted hormone changes. In addition, it may interact with other medications and cause stomach or gut problems.
7. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals that can act like estrogen in your body. Estrogen has many functions, including maintaining healthy vaginal tissue. It is also involved in sexual arousal and libido.
There is evidence that red clover supports the vaginal health of menopausal women. It also reduces vaginal dryness. A small study on women aged 40 and older found that red clover reduced vaginal dryness, low levels of libido, as well as pain during sex.
Red clover may be able to reduce hot flashes and high cholesterol. However, there isn’t consistent evidence. According to the NIH, people have used red clover in studies for three years without safety concerns.
Additional Information On Supplements
Many other supplements claim to improve your sex life. The truth is that most of these supplements have very little or no support. Some products can be dangerous or toxic. A 2015 literature review of about 50 scientific articles suggests products to avoid, including:
- Spanish fly
- Mad honey
- Bufo toad
Are there any over-the-counter products that can improve sexual health?
It depends. Many supplements can be safely used with very few side effects. However, just because a treatment is natural doesn’t mean that it is safe. Many over-the-counter remedies can have strong effects on your body, but not always in the ways you want.
Talk to your doctor before you try any herb or supplement to improve sexual health. This is particularly important if your health condition, prescription medication, pregnancy, or breastfeeding are involved.
Are FDA-approved over-the-counter sexual health supplements FDA-approved?
No. The FDA does not regulate natural products or supplements. Therefore, their safety and contents are not guaranteed. Multiple ingredients can confuse commercial products. It is difficult to determine exactly what you are taking and how much.
Consider using a well-known product, such as those recommended by Labdoor, if you decide to take a herbal preparation or supplement. In addition, you may be able to ask your healthcare provider to recommend products based on independent testing or their patients’ experiences.
Sexual Arousal Oil and Lotions
Arousal oils or lotions are products that you apply to your genitals before or during sex. These products often include botanical extracts, such as CBD, that can increase blood flow and sensitivity, making it easier to have sex.
- Bloomi Arousal Oil (botanical)
- Zestra (botanical)
- Foria Awaken Arousal Oil (CBD)
- Unbound Clitoral Jolt gel (botanical).
Remember that arousal oils (lube) are not the same thing as commercial lubricants. The natural “wetness,” which your body produces when you are awake, is what lubricants emulate. Also, oil-based lubricants are not compatible with silicone toys or latex condoms, unlike water-based lubricants.
It’s unclear how these products work. In one study in 2010, women using Zestra reported more sexual arousal and satisfaction than women who used a placebo. However, this area has not been extensively researched. In addition, arousal oils and lotions, just like oral supplements, are not regulated by FDA. It means that there may be unknown risks when using these products (especially CBD-infused ones).
Lifestyle Options For Sexual Health
Supplements and other sexual wellness devices are not the only things that can impact your sexual health. Behavior changes can also have a significant impact on your sexual health. Lifestyle choices can significantly impact your overall health, quality of life, and sexual performance. This can help give your sex life a boost.
Here are some suggestions:
A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is a good choice. Although there’s no evidence to suggest that one food is an aphrodisiac (a food that increases sexual desire), a healthy diet rich in nutrients can help support healthy nerve function, blood circulation, and hormone production, all of which are important for sex and libido.
Reduce Your Smoking: Cigarette use can decrease blood flow to your genitals. This can make it more difficult to have an orgasm or be sexually stimulated. Tobacco also causes Vaginal dryness, which can make sex more difficult or painful.
Be mindful of alcohol consumption: Some people may feel more drawn to having sex after having one or two drinks. This is because heavy alcohol consumption (getting very drunk) can reduce blood flow and sensation in the genitals. This can make it more difficult to have an orgasm or get physically aroused.
Regular exercise is a must. Numerous studies show regular exercise can help you feel more energetic and positive about your body. In addition, exercise may prove to be particularly helpful for those suffering from side effects of antidepressants.
Mindfulness meditation, therapy, or other activities can help you be more present at the moment. Many studies have shown that mindfulness practices can improve libido and sexual satisfaction.
Use a lubricant. Vaginal lubricants or moisturizers can reduce dryness and pain and make sex more enjoyable.
Masturbation is the act of touching your body to get sexual pleasure. It improves your sexual health by increasing blood flow to your genitals and toning the pelvic floor muscles. You can also learn more about your interests and hobbies.
Yoga is good for your sexual function. Only a handful of studies are conducted on the subject. A small study of women aged 22 and 55 found that 12 weeks of yoga camp participation reduced pain, increased desire, arousal, lubrication, and enhanced orgasm. Numerous studies have shown yoga can be beneficial for women with other medical conditions.
Aromatherapy treats a variety of conditions. A meta-analysis from 2017 found that aromatherapy, especially when mixed with lavender oil, neroli oil, or fennel oil, significantly improves sexual function in women who are menopausal. You can use essential oils as part of a sensual massage or in a diffuser. However, use essential oils sparingly on your skin. Some can cause irritation and other side effects.
Use a comfort or support device. For example, Positioners (link contains explicit images), spacers (link contains explicit images), and supports (link contains explicit images) all can help you to control your body’s movements and position during sex. In addition, these devices can be beneficial for those who feel pain or have disabilities.
Keep in Mind
If you do not see the results you desire, professional help is possible. Many people find online sex education classes such as OMGyes and Bodysex. Experts give these classes that help you learn about your body and explore new techniques for your sexuality.
Working with a licensed sexual health professional, either in person or via telehealth, is another option. These licensed professionals are trained in sexuality. Some may use talk therapy, while others prefer hands-on treatments. Examples include:
- Sex therapist
- A physical therapist for the pelvic floor
- Sexological bodyworker
You can also use medication to support healthy sex. For example, hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) for menopause symptoms. There are estradiol skin patches and micronized progesterone pills to help with hot flashes and bad sleep. Also, vaginal estrogen can be helpful for women who are in menopause. It can reduce vaginal dryness as well as pain during sex. In addition, FDA-approved prescription medications can help to treat low levels of libido among premenopausal females. However, research has shown that prescription medication for sexual problems may not work as well as placebo (sham) treatments.
Many options are available for everyone regardless of gender, anatomy, or physical ability. Don’t quit if you don’t like any treatment, device, or therapy. Sexual health is different for each person. Everyone deserves to feel happy with their body, secure and fulfilled.