by Jo Murphy
A healthy sex life is pivotal to a healthy mind and body, and a nourishing sexual relationship enhances your ability to become a balanced human being, so says Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). What’s more, this relationship isn’t dictated in any way by gender, it’s simply a mutually beneficial exchange of energy between two people—an exchange of yin and yang, if you will.
Sounds perfect, right? It is, in theory, but in practice many people are actually way out of balance, even if they’re in a loving relationship. This is where the TCM toolbox comes in handy, specifically traditional Chinese acupuncture, which some in the western medical profession are a little leery of—despite suggested evidence that acupuncture can relieve pain.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that involves different kinds of needles being inserted into the body. There are two types known as “traditional Chinese” and “western”. “The latter will treat the symptoms whereas Chinese will look at the root cause of the problem,” says Michelle Adams, an acupuncturist who specializes in TCM, and focuses on female sexuality and libido.
Western practitioners look for “trigger points” that can relieve musculoskeletal pain, but rarely (if ever) address problems associated with libido or sexuality. Chinese acupuncture focuses on energy meridians linked to organs, and if the libido is low, the kidney meridian will come under scrutiny. “But we’re not completely woo-woo,” adds Mita Mistry, a mindfulness-based cognitive therapist, coach and TCM acupuncturist. “We have to complete a three-year university degree, which involves a lot of medicine, and we’re regulated by the Acupuncture Council.” Even so, what the hell are energy meridians?
What Are Energy Meridians?
“They essentially form a complex road map that runs throughout the body,” Michelle explains, “with side streets and back roads that run all over the place.” Each carries your qi, or life force, from organ to organ, not unlike blood carries oxygen. In even simpler terms, the energy meridians follow the same pathways as your endocrine system, and acupuncture can indeed trigger the hypothalamus and the release of hormones, such as testosterone, which is crucial to libido.
So Acupuncture Can Increase Libido?
It’s not quite that simple. “A low libido is often a side symptom of something else,” says Sandra Bird, a TCM practitioner. “I see this a lot in women who’ve been through childbirth or are going through menopause, or those who are so busy that sex is bottom of the list. Long periods of abstinence can cause the libido to wane—you need to use it or you’ll lose it!”
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, an overactive libido can actually be a symptom of unfulfilled desires, explains Sandra. “It can indicate that a non-sexual desire isn’t being met, and the more you try to meet it through sex, the more you deplete your energy levels and cause imbalance in the whole body.”
OK, What’s the Big Deal With Balance?
Chinese acupuncture will not focus on one thing alone, and it certainly won’t separate the mental and the emotional from the physical since its overall aim is to bring mind and body into balance. An imbalance will occur if a particular meridian is draining more than its fair share of qi, therefore depleting your whole system—but how can you know where the deficiency is?
By checking one of your twelve pulses, of course. There are six on each wrist that correspond to a different energy meridian. “It’s not about measuring beats per minute,” says Mita, “but the rhythm and quality of each pulse—ideally they’d all beat in harmony, yet most individuals will have a unique pattern of disharmony.”
If this disharmony, or deficiency, has anything to do with the sexual organs, it can show up as graying hair in women, and hair loss in men, as well as low libido in both. “I’ve spent time with Peruvian tribes where women have jet black hair into old age,” says Michelle. “They’re not waking up to alarm clocks or rushing to the gym or eating shitty food.” In other words, we in the West are not living nourishing lives as we rush from one thing to the next.
Should We Make More Time for Sex?
Definitely. The current pace of your average western lifestyle causes the adrenal glands to run wild, meaning cortisol floods the body and knocks hormones off balance. In TCM terms, it’s the kidney meridian that’s linked to the adrenals, and therefore closely linked to the reproductive and sexual organs. “When needles are inserted into certain points along a meridian, it can have the same impact on the brain waves as meditation,” says Mita. “So the body enters into a relaxation state, which lowers cortisol.” And relaxation can be a precursor of quality sex.
Equally, quality sex can help you relax, but you may need to drain a body blockage first. This is often the case for women who have trouble climaxing, says Mita, “Circulation can be the problem, which is caused by a build up of stagnant energy in a meridian. You could think of it as a drain that’s so blocked the whole plumbing system is backed up. Needles placed in the right points will release the blockage so that everything can flow again,” especially the blood that needs to get to the genitals.
Should We Make More Time for Acupuncture Too?
“Even western medical professionals speak of homeostasis,” says Sandra, “and the idea that the human body will heal itself in the right set of circumstances—but sometimes the body needs a helping hand and acupuncture can go a long way to creating those circumstances.”
“In ancient China, the emperor’s physician only got paid when the emperor was well, which is the complete opposite of our medical model today. So TCM is all about nourishment of life rather than waiting until you’re ill to take care of yourself.” Sex as nourishment of life, there has to be something in that, with or without the needles.