How Can Lifestyle Choices Affect Sexual Health

To answer this question, we must first understand the definition of the two factors:

Man and woman looking at each other

Sexual Health

The World Health Organization defines this term as a state of emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being as related to one’s sexuality; This included behavioral method of approach to sexuality and sexual relationships along with a myriad of ethical and moral decision-making factors. Yet it excluded physiological and hormonal dysfunctions and the absence of disease states.

I do want to highlight that this definition was (in recent years) updated by CHAC (a sub-specialized department of the CDC) to include a focus on an individual’s health. Furthermore, as quoted by the SMSNA (Society of Sexual Medicine of North America)

“Sexual health does matter! It is an important piece of your overall health and well-being. Health conditions that impact your sexual functioning – either directly or indirectly—can have an enormous impact on your overall health and well-being”

As a physician member of this society, I would like to add to the above definitions to include disease prevention & care along with other physiological, hormonal, and medical conditions that are also crucial factors in sexual health optimization.

Lifestyle Choices

Google sources use the below phrases for this definition:

  • Decisions made to increase or decrease one’s personal wellness.
  • Making the right decisions to engage in the right behaviors, which in turn enhances one’s quality of life and prevention of disease
  • Methodology of behaviors that follow the individual’s tastes, attitudes, and values.

As a physician who has sub-specialized in holistic osteopathic medicine and Obesity Medicine, the importance of lifestyle choices in relation to one’s health has been evident to me and practical in my patients’ life improvements. Over the span of my 20-year career in the above sub-specialties, I have noticed a significant role of these choices in the involvement of one’s overall health. But today we will attempt to scratch the surface of its relation to sexual health.

Here is a quick list that any individual can practice on their own to improve their sexual health:

  • Optimize your body fat percentage

    1. There is no question that extra fat tissue in our body interferes with hundreds of different body functions. As it relates to this topic, Fat tissue has DIRECT and indirect effects on our sex hormones such as estrogen levels and testosterone levels and their proper interplay. Fat tissue also has multitude of other factors including–but not limited to–cardiovascular blood flow to appropriate genital parts which also greatly affects one’s sexual performance and health.
    2. A healthy body fat percentage for female should be below 30% and for a male below 20%. (Please note we are not talking about BMI)

  • Woman on treadmill

  • Increase and maintain consistent physical activity and exercise

    1. Aerobic and cardiovascular physical exercise allows an enhanced physiological state for improved blood circulation to all body parts including sex organs of men and women which contain the smallest diameter blood vessels.
    2. Muscle toning exercises: besides the hundreds of improved physiological states, increased muscle-to-fat ratio enhances production of testosterone (an extremely critical hormone in BOTH male and female libido and sexual health and function).
    3. consistent physical exercise also enhances multiple neurotransmitter in our brain which are also key factors in sexual health and desire.
  • Treat and alleviate any musculoskeletal aches and pains

    1. Headaches, any muscle tension and stiffness, joint pain & discomfort of any body part from head-to-toe can be an underlying annoyance to the body. This “annoyance” or “pain process” overcomes the energy of the body that is needed to prepare for appropriate sexual desire or physical endurance associated with the sexual activities.
  • Avoid smoking or chewing tobacco/illicit drugs

    1. Any illicit drugs or non-physician-prescribed medications are detrimental for one’s health and multiple distinct aspects and this can decline one’s sexual health and sexual performance.
    2. Tobacco: besides all the other aspects which include heart disease & cancers in the long-term. It is important to note that any time you smoke a cigarette, all your blood vessels go in a state of vasoconstriction. This diminishes the appropriate transport nutrients and hormones to the proper organs needed for sexual health and function.
  • Limit your alcohol intake

    1. Although there have been multiple medical journal articles that have suggested improvement of cardiovascular system by consumption of three wineglasses per week, it is extremely important to control and limit your alcohol intake not to exceed that recommendation. Increased alcohol intake has significant downer effects on the overall function of the body which also includes sexual performance, function, and health.
  • Man sleeping

  • Appropriate sleep hygiene

    1. 8 -10 hours of sleep is the appropriate time which allows the body to get full rest and reset itself for next day’s overall functions. Anything less or more on a consistent basis can affect the body’s function in multiple separate ways including overall sexual health and function.
  • Appropriate and healthy diet

    1. Water intake — recommended between 2 to 2.5 L per day
    2. Avoid sugars — this can “caramelize” your blood vessels and stick to your organs which are eventually toxic to your body health and function
    3. Avoid processed foods — bottom line: they are no good! So, replace them with more fruits, vegetables, and grains
    4. Limit your carbohydrate / fat & cholesterol intake
  • Improve your mental health and enhance your moods

    1. Decrease your stress level / increase your happy moods and self-confidence and self-esteem
    2. Decrease your stress work hours and increase your “Me-time” and engagement in your hobbies and special relaxation activities.

The above is a very brief list of lifestyle choices and decisions that improve your overall health and disease & comorbidity prevention (many of which are silent until it is in their advanced stages). But its also important to note that they can be limited and sabotaged by any undiscovered underlying physiological/hormonal insufficiency.

I will admit that the above ideas can be preached by any non-physician behavioral health practitioner such as psychologists, behaviorist, life coach, nutritionist/dietitian, personal trainer, and others. But it is extremely important to know despite of all experts’ advice and help, the bottom line is YOU ACTIVATING AND BEING PERSISTENT with the above behaviors and lifestyle choices.

HOWEVER, what the above experts, and most primary care physicians and majority of gynecologist or endocrine doctors have failed to do up to this day is to have the appropriate bedside discussions about one’s sexual health habits/issues/concerns or changes which most individuals are hesitant to discuss with their physician.
Yet, increasing evidence shows that the more holistic and health-focused approach is key to one’s sexual; health/function/performance. Hence, importance of a Sexual Health & Medicine Physician. Such physicians are equipped with the appropriate listening ear, appropriate lab testing, and sexual health knowledge base. Such special tests usually include assessing your levels of specified hormones, hormone by-products, vitamins, and other markers that can guide your sexual health physician to tailor-make an efficient plan to optimize your sexual health, sexual performance, and sexual function back to what it used to be at your peak-state. This is important not only for optimizing your medical, physical, and mental health, but also the mental, physical, and medical health of your sexual partner which trickles down to the mental health and happiness of your family.
This education piece was written by: Payam Kerendian, DO

Medical Director at Delight Medical & Wellness Center

He is Family Practice physician with subspecialties in Osteopathic Musculoskeletal Medicine, Hormone Optimization, Obesity Medicine and is a member of both International Society and North American Societies of Sexual Medicine.