How Your Hormones Affect Your Sexual Health
Our sexual health is often tied to our hormones.
Dr. Nadia Musavvir, a Los Angeles area (and also traveling!) naturopathic doctor, describes several ways your hormones can affect your sex, pleasure and sexual health.
Musavvir often works with people virtually, and makes house calls. When Do The Good Stuff interviewed her, she was on a call in Chicago.
“I really strive to get to the root of people’s concerns and to restore vitality and optimal well-being,” she says.
Here are a few things this doctor wants you to know about your hormones and you.
What actually is a hormone?
It’s a chemical or substance that sends a specific effect in the body, other than where it’s produced.
“For example: the thyroid, is located in the throat area but receives signaling or communication from the brain. When the thyroid receives appropriate signaling from the brain, it then produces hormones which have effects throughout the body.”
How do hormones affect sex, pleasure and your sexual health?
“Hormones most definitely affect sexual health and pleasure ,” Musavvir says. “The important thing to note here is that it’s not just about imbalanced sex hormones that affect libido and pleasure, imbalances rooted in areas other than sex organs can affect libido and satisfaction. For sex hormones, when it comes to women we think of estrogen, and for men we think testosterone but when a woman is experiencing low libido it could be because her testosterone is too low. And why would testosterone be low? For many reasons: stress affecting adrenal or stress hormones, thyroid hormones, blood sugar regulating hormones. So when it comes to evaluating the cause for low libido, a thorough assessment of diet, lifestyle and appropriate testing of all hormones and systems need to be taken into account. Especially because all hormones (and body systems) are connected.”
What do you want women to know about hormones and changes happening in their bodies?
“As women we are CONSTANTLY having to get used to a new normal,” Musavvir says. “First puberty happens…you're adjusting to an influx of hormones and changes, you finally feel like you're settling and then you get into your twenties- for many women who are now in their 30s and 40s- their body's hormones were suppressed, in a sense, by oral contraceptives. When 30 hits many women experience the notable slow down in metabolism, and if they've had children many women experience a change in their body weight and composition, changes in hair and skin, mood and libido. Then dealing with peri-menopuase and menopause in 40s and 50s --a woman's body is constantly adjusting. We can be so hard on ourselves but this is another reason and reminder to be easy on ourselves and give ourselves grace in the moments of adjustment and transition. It’s also important to be mindful of that you know your body better than anybody else so trust your intuition.”
“When something’s truly off, trust that intuition. I think sometimes women get more confused because the conventional system really only looks for disease. So they’re being told everything is normal basically until everything is not.”
There’s one solution she recommends, and a starting point for all women as they check their hormones throughly.
“I’ve worked with a lot of women who have had blood work show up as normal even though they're still experiencing symptoms,” Musavvir says. “Sometimes it may not show up on your blood work but that might not mean it’s normal. And if you know your heavy, painful periods, fatigue, low libido and acne isn't normal for you then don't settle for that answer. As a patient, it is your right to ask your doctor for other tests, diet changes, lifestyle-- anything that you might be able to incorporate to get to the root."
What's a common myth or rumor about hormones that you want to change?
There’s one myth Musavvir isn’t crazy about: being hormonal.
“Women who are menopausal or peri-menopausal or pregnant or post-partum will experience mood changes due to their hormone fluctuations so being quick to dismiss them as 'being hormonal' or automatically diagnosing them as depressed and medicating with anti-depressants is not OK. It's part of the process and certain emotions come with that process-- we’re allowed to have emotion and not have it be a medical condition or diagnoses,” Musavvir says.
“Putting us into a category of meeting a diagnosis of anxiety or depression is really creating this stigma. One, it’s not allowing people to express what they need to express, two, people are not looking into how this could be part of the aging process and we need to dig deeper.”
I also think it's important that women are educated about hormonal birth control and their options. I've had many patients tell me that their doctors say "low dose is ok" but that's simply not true. Sure it has a time and not all women will be affected in the same way but women should know that if they’re taking the pill for reasons other than contraceptive, then whatever imbalance they have prompting them to take the pill is only going to be masked and oftentimes made worse.
How can women investigate or learn more about the changes in their body? Should they talk to their doctors?
“It depends on what your situation is and what question you want to ask,” Musavvir says. "But whatever it is you should ask for more. If you’re not content with the response you’re getting, or solution, then ask, 'Why?' 'What are my options?' You don’t need to just take any response at face value, you can prod a little bit more and absolutely talk to your doctors.
Musavvir recommends that you ask what other options and testing could be available. For example, if you have no period, or your period is changing, ask what testing or options are available for you to address your period and find the root problem.
What resources or guides do you recommend for women?
“I always recommend women have a period tracking app. I like Clue,” Musavvir says. “I’ve had a lot of patients tell me about Flo. As far as birth control, Daysy, the fertility tracker, is good option if you want to get off the pill and helps you get to know your body and cycle better. I like the company LOLA or Cora for natural, pure cotton pads. For menstrual cups I recommend Dot cup or Diva cups ."
She also recommends several books and blogs to help women understand their hormones and bodies better, including “Women's Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine” by Dr. Tori Hudson, “Period Repair Manual” by Dr. Lara Briden, Dr. Carrie Jones website is also a great resource for women wanting to learn more about hormones and their body, along with Dr. Christiane Northrup’s website.