Acupuncture is, of all the alternative approaches to health care, one of the best known and most studied. A lot of people have used it to help with things like chronic pain and smoking cessation, but now there’s a trend of using acupuncture to increase your sex drive. While interest in sex can be wildly varied, loss of interest in sex can be more than a sexual problem. Low libido doesn’t just kill your boner, it can indicate emotional or physical issues or exacerbate depression. I asked an acupuncturist and a doctor whether acupuncture can help folks get their mojo back.
“Acupuncture can naturally boost libido for both men and women,” says Shari Auth, an NYC-based acupuncturist and Co-Founder of WTHN, an acupuncture and wellness clinic in Manhattan. “It works in several ways. There are acu-points all over the body that help increase sex drive, improve sexual function, and help get you out of your head and into your body, and finding that balance heightens your senses and helps you connect deeper sexually,” she says.
Sounds great, if a little woo. But most acupuncturists think that it’s healthy to be skeptical and to combine acupuncture with other treatments. “As with all medicine — acupuncture isn’t a one stop shop, nor should it be considered that,” says Kim Peirano, a San Francisco-based acupuncturist. “Efficacy of the treatment aside — the lack of significant side effects is one of the things that makes acupuncture a great treatment,” she explains. Acupuncture may not be a cure all, then, but it probably won’t hurt you.
What do medical doctors think of using acupuncture for libido? “Acupuncture may improve some of the factors that cause low libido, but others may benefit from additional western treatments,” says Joseph B. Davis, an obstetrician-gynecologist in NYC. He referred me to studies that indicate that women, in particular, might gain sexual health benefits from regular acupuncture treatments. According to a study conducted in 2018 and published in Sexual Medicine, women who received acupuncture treatments for five weeks reported an increase in sex drive. The study focused on acupuncture’s impact on symptoms rather than the why behind the results, so it’s not clear exactly what acupuncture did, in this study, to improve low libido.
Davis stresses that low libido can be a symptom of many things, and that while acupuncture may work for some causes, it may not for others. “It depends on the underlying cause. Libido may be low due to physical or psychological stress, low hormones, fatigue and low self image among other causes. Treatments should address the underlying causes,” he says. But he does seem to think that, overall, acupuncture can be beneficial for sexual health. The theory is that acupuncture can help balance out the hormones that make you feel happy – and horny.
Auth echoes that reduced interest in sex can happen for many reasons, some of which are mental and some of which are sexual. How can acupuncture possibly address everything at once? “Acupuncture balances both mental and sexual hormones. When your hormones are out of balance, stimulating and sexual experiences can be less desirable,” she asserts. “Acupuncture increases your ‘happy’ hormone, serotonin, as well as balancing sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.”
The theory is that acupuncture can help balance out the hormones that make you feel happy – and horny.
Research indeed suggests that acupuncture can boost hormone production in women, and Davis finds it worthy of exploration. “I think it’s plausible,” he says. “Some serotonin receptors increase desire and some inhibit. Testosterone increase would increase desire,” he explains. Still, studies which suggest that acupuncture can increase serotonin release have been conducted on humans, but the only studies that show that acupuncture can aid in the release of testosterone have been performed on mice. That’s important to keep in mind since while the little guys are important indicators of human health, our bodies are very different that rodents’.
If the only testosterone studies have been done on mice, can acupuncture help human men with libido-related issues? Maybe.
According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture can boost sperm count and help men relax. Erectile dysfunction, however, is another matter, so acupuncture may not be effective for all penis-related dilemmas. “Acupuncture may have some benefit for ED caused by psychological stress but not for ED due to physical causes,” Davis says. Research from 2019 published in World Men’s Health Journal suggested that men who experience psychological stress that caused ED showed major mojo improvement with very few side effects. That’s a lot more than can be said for pharmaceutical treatments for ED, which have some pretty unsexy side effects, like diarrhea and headache.
Davis says that he has seen acupuncture significantly improve health outcomes when used as in conjunct with medical treatments, but the woo factor is a definite barrier. “The greatest challenge facing acupuncturists is western medical providers not fully understanding the way acupuncture works within the western medicine system,” he said.