How many times have you heard that our largest sex organ is the brain? Or that our libido and sexual functioning is “all in our head?” It just may surprise you that, in fact, it’s all in our gut. Gut health and the state of the microbiome that lives there have a tremendous effect on our overall health. From a holistic point of view, thriving gut flora is a major player when it comes to our emotional wellbeing. And, since our emotional health is connected to our sexual health, we can look to our gut health for additional ways to improve our libido or sex drive.
What we know for sure is that the gastrointestinal tract is extremely sensitive to emotion, and the relationship between the brain and gut is quite intimate. When we feel anger, sadness, excitement, or stress, our stomach feels them equally and responds, sometimes resulting in discomfort or emergency trips to the restroom. For this reason, the gut is sometimes referred to as our “second brain.”
Over 100 million nerve cells – part of an intricate system called the enteric nervous system – line the gastrointestinal tract. This very specialized system affects the blood flow and the acidic secretions that aid in digestion. But these nerves also signal our brain when we feel hungry or full or when we may have eaten something that doesn’t agree with us.
Our gut also knows immediately when we feel sad, scared, nervous, or stressed. Since the sex drive, or libido, is connected to our emotional state and our gut is also connected to our emotions, it stands to reason that our gut may play a part in our sexual health. As it turns out, gut health plays a tremendous part in our sexual desires and functioning as well.
Serotonin is a well-known neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and desire, to name a few. This particular neurotransmitter has it beginnings in the gut. It has been discovered that up to 90 percent of the body’s serotonin production occurs in the microbiome of our stomach. We need a healthy balance of gut bacteria to produce adequate serotonin.
More serious sexual side effects occur when an individual suffers from a chronic gut health condition. Sexual dysfunction is a common issue with any chronic illness. However, the combined factors of the physical and emotional complications of a gut disorder can have a profound effect. The physical side effects of a gut illness include gas, bloating, discomfort, fatigue, and frequent bowel movements. The constant management of these physical complications can manifest emotionally as depression, embarrassment, poor self-image, fear, poor body image, and lack of confidence.
Since gut illnesses do not discriminate with age or gender, teenagers and young adults experience these symptoms at a time when their body image is developing. The challenge becomes and remains navigating this very personal condition while trying to cultivate more intimate personal and sexual relationships. The fear associated with communicating a gut illness with a potential partner creates even more stress and anxiety. Understandably, it’s hard to be sexy and act sexy when you don’t feel sexy.
The overwhelming ingredient for maintaining any aspect of our health is balance. Unfortunately, self-care is not a huge priority in our fast-paced, American lifestyle. Self-care requires awareness, time, and patience. We must first be aware that our body needs attention when something – like our stomach – is not functioning optimally. Then we must take the time to go to the doctor, investigate ways to improve health, exercise, or relax. Finally, we must have the patience to wait for results to occur. There are no quick fixes or magic pills. Our bodies have value, and we should be investing in them long-term.