Sex drive is a big piece of any adult’s overall well-being—and it’s time to start talking about it. A truly holistic approach to health simply can’t ignore your libido. And while it’s normal for sexual desires to fluctuate over time depending on your hormones, blood pressure, age, fertility, stress levels, and medications you take, there are a few ways you can naturally maintain the flame. Here are some of the biggest (and perhaps most surprising!) ways your lifestyle can support your libido.
1. Eat A Balanced Diet (That Includes Some Aphrodisiacs)
You’ve likely heard that certain foods may impact your sex drive, but before you go ahead and google “top aphrodisiacs“, you’ll want to take note of the importance of a holistic and well-balanced diet, says dietitian Andrea Bailey, R.D., of Top Nutrition Coaching. “A lack of nutrients is a type of malnutrition, and if you’re not nourished properly it can affect your sex hormones.” For example, a diet that includes a lot of processed foods and sugar increases inflammation in the body and causes your adrenal glands to overwork, ultimately triggering a hormonal imbalance and low libido, she explains. Your body needs various nutrients to keep your hormones in check, so Bailey recommends focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats as much as possible.
That being said, a little experimenting with so-called aphrodisiacs can’t hurt! Try strawberries, bananas, chocolate, honey, raw oysters, nutmeg, walnuts, and watermelon for a little boost in libido, says Bailey. Apples have also been shown to enhance female sexual function and improve lubrication, she says. For men, pomegranate juice may improve erections by reducing stress and increasing blood flow.
Just remember that balance is key and there is no magic pill, says Nancy Zitlin, an Institute for Integrated Nutrition certified holistic health and nutrition coach. “You don’t have to deprive yourself of the things that you love, but once you start bringing in fruits and vegetables and crowding out [processed foods and sugar], you’ll feel good,” she says. “You’ll notice that your energy is back and be able to press the ‘play’ button.”
2. Manage Stress
It’s certainly easier said than done, but stress reduction really is key to a healthy sex life. “Your body doesn’t know that your stress is not a life-or-death situation, and an increase in the stress-related hormone, cortisol, causes a decrease in testosterone,” says Bailey. Though you might think testosterone is only a topic of concern for men, women also produce the hormone and too-low T levels have been linked to low libido (among other issues) in them, too.
If you’re chronically stressed, then your body increases the necessary survival functions like keeping your blood flowing and heart pumping, but decreases non-essential functions like sex drive, erections, and the ability to climax, she explains. In other words, your libido doesn’t stand a chance unless you work to reduce stress and help squash high cortisol levels.
Stress also brings with it mental and physical fatigue, which usually leads to a low sex drive, says acupuncturist, herbalist, and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner Neka Pasquale, LA.c. M.S., the founder of Urban Remedy. “If you’re running around and taking care of people all day and expending a ton of mental and physical energy, a lot of times, you end up with a low sex drive,” she explains.
Though reducing stress sometimes requires significant life changes (think committing to therapy, changing jobs, or reevaluating relationships), you can prioritize helpful practices like yoga and meditation, as well as self-care activities like taking hot baths, listening to music, going for walks, and socializing with friends.
3. Try Maca
Research is still emerging, but Maca (also known as Peruvian ginseng) is a root plant known to promote libido and fertility, says Pasquale. In particular, studies show that Maca supplements can support libido in women who experience mood-related sexual dysfunction. Other studies show that Maca may improve sperm production and sperm mobility in men. A food-based supplement, Maca is easy to add to your routine either in the form of a capsule or a raw powder. Pasquale recommends incorporating Maca into your diet by adding Maca powder to smoothies or even sprinkling it over cooked dishes.
4. Get Enough Zinc
Zinc deficiencies can lead to low libido, especially in men, according to Pasquale. The likely reason: Studies support that zinc is significantly correlated with testosterone levels and that a deficiency can interfere with sperm production.
According to Bailey, most people can maintain zinc levels with a balanced diet. You’ll find it in foods such as shellfish, pumpkin seeds, milk, orange juice, oysters, nuts, beans, and cereal, she says. If you’re looking to take a zinc supplement, talk with your doctor first since zinc supplements may interfere with some medications.
5. Make Time For Yourself And Your Relationship
For those in long-term relationships, it’s common for desire to fizzle, leading to low libido or lacking sex drive. That said, do not put intimacy on the back burner, urges Zitlin. First, prioritize yourself by blocking out time in your calendar daily to meditate, journal, or exercise. “Find what makes you feel good and stick to it,” she says. “Make it a part of your day.”
From there, schedule time for your relationship by committing to a weekly date night, signing up for sex therapy, booking a weekend getaway, or having regular check-ins about what you need from your partner, Zitlin suggests. Nurturing your relationship can build intimacy and re-spark that sexual flame.
6. Consider Red Ginseng
Red ginseng is one of the most popular herbs out there for boosting libido and promoting sexual functioning, says Pasquale. And while red ginseng is said to mimic the human body and benefit overall wellness (its shoots resemble arms and legs), research suggests it can be particularly effective in supporting sexual function in men. Meanwhile, one 2021 study also suggests that red ginseng may support women who experience decreased sex drive during menopause.
Red ginseng supplements are easy to find and incorporate into your lifestyle. To take things a step further, Pasquale recommends seeking out a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner or acupuncturist. They may recommend pairing red ginseng with a variety of other herbs in an adaptogenic formula based on your individualized needs, she says. (Read more about adaptogens here.)
7. Exercise Regularly
We all know that physical activity ramps up the production of endorphins (your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters) and studies show that exercise can actually peak arousal. Plus, for men in particular, research suggests that both resistance training and endurance workouts effectively support sexual function.
Whether you go on a daily walk, spin on your Peloton, train for marathons, or powerlift, it’s important to move because physical fitness and exercise positively impact your sexual health, notes Pasquale.
8. Get Your Share Of Healthy Fats
Fun fact: Your body uses fat as a building block for hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone. “Healthy fats are actually the backbone of some of those [sex hormones] and androgens that we need to have increased sexual desire,” says Bailey. So if you’re still riding the low-fat train, it’s time to hop off.
To give those sex hormones a helping hand, Bailey recommends that roughly 20 to 25 percent of your diet comes from foods high in healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, and herring.
9. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep deprived? Your sex drive is going to suffer. “Sleep loss has been associated with decreased sex drive, infertility, and erectile dysfunction,” says Bailey. “Inadequate slumber can lead to decreased testosterone and an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol, which are both bad news for libido.”
Yes, life can be hectic, but try to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. “A really good night’s sleep is critical because that’s when your body heals and repairs itself,” adds Pasquale. By prioritizing rest, you give your body a chance to regulate your endocrine system, which manages all of your hormones and ultimately supports a thriving sex drive. Bottom line: Missing out on sleep because you’re binging Netflix pretty much guarantees you won’t be losing sleep for more exciting reasons. If your days and evenings tend to run away from you, try this morning routine—which can actually help you sleep better later on—before things get crazy.