As a women’s sexual health expert and longtime OB-GYN, I have worked with thousands of women – and their partners – to help them experience greater intimacy in their relationship and boost their libido.
I have found there are a number of physical, mental and environmental barriers that can greatly affect a woman’s desire, sexual drive, overall sexual satisfaction and her ability to achieve climax. This is especially true as women age as our hormones and underlying health may start to work against us!
There are 4 “Big I (Intimacy) Barriers” that can keep us from truly feeling the degree of pleasure and connection that we all deserve… shall we discuss them?
The 4 “Big I” Barriers:
- Preoccupied or emotionally unsafe
- Insecure or uncomfortable
- Lost or lacking libido – or your partner’s
- Stuck or unable to communicate or express yourself
You’ve heard this before and it is true: our biggest sexual organ is our brain!
So let’s start there…
Preoccupied or emotionally unsafe
“Stop…the kids will hear us!” “I have so much work to do.” “Still have to clean the dishes...” Sometimes our internal dialogue can really turn us off and keep us turned off! We know better but it has to become a discipline to shut down ‘Sergeant Task Master’ and allow our ability to be receptive and present to come in.
It is also important to mention that there are life experiences that can persistently block us. Did we have bad sexual experiences in our past? Have we suffered abuse or trauma?
On top of these life experiences… Women need to be in a safe place emotionally and physically to experience pleasure and climax. We need to trust our partner, have privacy and feel secure. We can’t feel timed or rushed, and we can’t be worried people will be barging in on us. So a major “threat” here is kids in the house. Does this sound familiar?
It is important to create a safe environment and ambience. Nothing like the kids going for a sleepover on date night! Don’t underestimate the distraction factor of kids or even guests in the house.
Stress is a big“libido-buster” primarily because it affects our cortisol and oxytocin levels Intimacy and pleasure are also blocked by: fear, distress, a sense of guilt or shame, dislike, anger, and trauma.
Insecure or uncomfortable
Along with feeling safe and free of distractions, sex needs to actually feel enjoyable, right?
If you have pain and irritation, or discharge (or the embarrassment that can come with that) every time you have sexual intercourse you are likely going to end up with, “sorry dear but I have a headache tonight (again)”. We may stress and fret or suffer from self-esteem related inhibitions, neither very good for setting the mood.
And this can happen even in our 20’s as women naturally start seeing a decline in several key hormones, including DHEA (a major libido booster). Vaginal dryness may already be causing issues with sexual discomfort.
And in peri-menopause and during menopause women’s hormones continue to affect muscles and tissues around the pelvic area, vagina, uterus, rectum and bladder. Vaginal dryness may worsen and pH may be affected causing more infections. Discomfort during sexual intercourse may be more prevalent due to urethra thinning and further loss of vaginal tissue elasticity. Pain can become a significant barrier for a woman to enjoy intimacy and lower her libido.
Additionally, in my experience, most women have weakened pelvic muscles starting at age 40. So many women will start to tinkle at the most inconvenient times!
Being overweight can further exhaust pelvic floor muscles as the excess weight pushes down on the abdomen. Having diabetes, pre-diabetes and other chronic diseases – even food intolerances or digestive issues - can also impact the muscles in this all-important region.
Lost or lacking libido – or your partner’s
So we’ve talked about how natural hormone decline can impact us with vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, urinary leakage…etc. And that can leave us feeling less than sexy.
But there are other ways that our hormones can defeat our libido….!
One way is that medications we take can interfere with our hormones, causing side effects that impact our energy level, mood, libido, and ability to climax. So if you take meds and are suffering from a lack of libido, tell your doctor! It could be a side effect. Or it can also be a symptom of hormone imbalance caused by an underlying disease.
Many women are often surprised to find out that birth control pills and antihistamines are also big libido-busting culprits!
Too much stress can pump up your body’s cortisol and the adrenal glands can really be affected. This “Fight or Flight” mechanism “turns off” libido! DHEA is a key hormone that is produced by the adrenals and I typically recommend supplements to course-correct those adrenal imbalances along with healthy lifestyle changes. Maca is one of my favorite adrenal adaptogens, which restores adrenal health, balances hormones, and detoxifies. That’s why I’ve used Maca and other adrenal supporting ingredients in my Mighty Maca® Plus superfoods drink. And Maca has been scientifically proven to improve libido!
Additionally, the loss of DHEA and our reproductive hormones testosterone and estrogen, not only affects our desire and libido, it also impacts our sense of enjoyment, pleasure and ability to achieve climax. A feminine cream with DHEA called Julva® can help with lubrication, enjoyment and orgasm which will then increase oxytocin, our love and bonding hormone which helps to counteract the effects of stress.
If your honey is having arousal issues that can also create a lot of stress for him and you. For men, erectile dysfunction is often an early symptom of heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions, so make sure he consults with his doctor or someone who specializes in hormonal health and functional medicine. Learn much more about what your man can do to resolve Low Testosterone issues with natural therapies including bio-identical hormones.
After you get a handle on any mental and physical barriers you may have you can turn your attention to communication barriers that can be inhibiting intimacy and pleasure.
Stuck or unable to communicate or express yourself
I always tell couples that I work with that they both need to practice being present with their feelings, emotions, touch and connection. Put the electronics such as cell phones and other distractions away. Forget your “to do” list and “honey do” list, and focus on the moment at hand.
Part of getting more connected with your partner is communicating what one likes and doesn’t like. The “doesn’t like” list may in fact be more important when it comes to arousal and climax!
We are all very highly vulnerable in this area of our life. We need to be encouraging coaches to each other. Discussing the positive experience in that time of cuddling, intimacy and bonding is really very important. Seriously, even the best athletes have coaches!
In closing, ladies we all know that we are not wired the same way sexually as men where they are more linear and performance metrics based. With women, when we are intimate, intensity may build, and then fall; we may flow here and then there. And as we ebb and flow, many things can impact our ability to both bond with our mate as well as to achieve pleasure.
We can feel a lot of pleasure, we can feel bonded with our mate, and yet we may not reach the so-called ecstasy of climax…and still be quite fulfilled.
We will ooze oxytocin (our hormone of bonding and connectedness…I call this hormone the Big O!) even without climax. Oxytocin, like all hormones, is part of our evolutionary design. Its release enables us to create a stronger partnership and an increased feeling of love and acceptance, bonding, trust and closeness with our partner.
Actively cultivating intimacy in our relationship by addressing potential barriers and enhancing our libido will not only greatly increase our well-being and sense of overall sexual satisfaction, but it will also then nourish our partnership in an even deeper way. What’s not to love?
Dr. Anna Cabeca is an Emory University trained gynecologist and obstetrician, a menopause and sexual health expert and international speaker and educator. She created the top selling products Julva® – an anti-aging feminine cream for women, MightyMaca™ Plus – a superfood hormone balancing health drink, and online programs Magic Menopause, Women’s Restorative Health and SexualCPR.