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A 2019 study by Towe et al., found that certain medical issues including metabolic syndrome, obesity, and eating disorders have an effect on female sexuality. The study also found evidence that incorporating of healthy dietary patterns into everyday life may positively influence female sexuality.

Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity May Cause Female Sexual Dysfunction


According to the Mayo Clinic, Metabolic Syndrome is a “cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels. The syndrome increases a person's risk for heart attack and stroke.” Those with Metabolic Syndrome often have apple or pear shaped bodies.

In addition to increasing risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, metabolic syndrome can affect the function of endothelial cells, which help the body create lubrication including vaginal lubrication. Studies have also found that Metabolic Syndrome can also affect sexual dysfunction by decreasing sexual activity, desire, and satisfaction (Towe, 2019; Trompeter, 2016).

Obesity can be a component of Metabolic Syndrome and has also been linked to decreased female sexual function in other studies including Aversa (2013) wherein the study found that holistic intervention for obesity resulted in an increase in sexual function as measured by desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and lack of pain.

Eating Disorders and Sexual Dysfunction

Studies have found that eating disorders including bulimia and anorexia can negatively affect sexual function.

Bulimic patients tend to be more impulsive and engage in higher risk sexual behaviors, while people who have anorexia report decreased arousal, lubrication, worse orgasmic function, and other effects on the menstrual cycle (Towe, 2019).

Specific Diets that Have been Found to Positively Affect Female Sexuality


The Mediterranean diet has been shown in a few studies to improve sexual function, specifically for women who also have obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (Esposito, 2007; Towe, 2019).

In Esposito’s 2007 study, participants were asked to adhere to a Mediterranean diet for 24 months with the following guidelines:
Diets were compromised of

  • 50-60% complex carbohydrates
  • 15-20% of proteins -less than 30% total fats
  • less than 10% saturated fats

Subjects consumed at least 250–300 g of fruits, 125–150 g of vegetables and 25–50 g of nuts per day. Additional guidelines included consuming 400 g of whole grains daily (legumes, rice, corn and wheat) and to increase the consumption of olive oil. Women were also advised to increase consumption of fish and to reduce intake of red or processed meat.

By the end of the 24 month trial, those following the Mediterranean diet in the Esposito study reported better sexual function in the areas of sexual desire, arousal, orgasm and pain.

The Ketogenic diet is described by the National Cancer Institute as a “diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates (sugars) that causes the body to break down fat into molecules called ketones. Ketones circulate in the blood and become the main source of energy for many cells in the body.”

In Castro’s 2018 study, women placed on a low calorie ketogenic diet for 4 months reported improved sexual function in the realms of arousal (excitation) and lubrication. The study also reported that some women reported improved orgasmic function.

As pelvic floor therapists, it is outside of our domain to prescribe or counsel people through diet changes. Please check in with your doctor, a registered dietician, and/or a licensed nutritionist for more information.

Resources

Aversa A, Bruzziches R, Francomano D, et al. Weight loss by multidisciplinary intervention improves endothelial and sexual function in obese fertile women. J Sex Med 2013;10:1024- 1033.

Castro A, Gomez-Arbelaez D, Crujeiras A, et al. Effect of a very low-calorie ketogenic diet on food and alcohol cravings, physical and sexual activity, sleep disturbances, and quality of life in obese patients. Nutrients 2018;10:1348.

Esposito, K., Ciotola, M., Giugliano, F. et al. Mediterranean diet improves sexual function in women with the metabolic syndrome. Int J Impot Res 19, 486–491 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijir.3901555

Towe, M., La, J., El-Khatib, F., Roberts, N., Yafi, F. A., & Rubin, R. (2019). Diet and Female Sexual Health. Sexual Medicine Reviews. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2019.08.004

Mayo Clinic, Metabolic Syndrome

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351916

Trompeter, S. E., Bettencourt, R., & Barrett-Connor, E. (2016). Metabolic Syndrome and Sexual Function in Postmenopausal Women. The American Journal of Medicine, 129(12), 1270–1277.e1. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2016.03.039

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After having my second baby via C-section I searched for months to try to find help for my lower back pain and separated abdominal muscles. I finally came across Heather Jeffcoat via a mommy blog. I reached out to her via email and set my first appointment. My first appointment went amazing … she listened to what my symptoms, check my separation and explained to me in detail what the next steps would be. Not only did my abdominal separation go from 3 to about 1 -1/2 but my back has pain has significantly reduced. I’m personally recommending all my mommy friends to Heather!

Y.L. (mom of 2)

Testimonial by Rosanna R., age 35

Heather has affected my life in the MOST POSITIVE way and I am forever grateful. My husband refers to her as the "sex doctor" so you can only imagine how happy he is with my therapy outcome.

After the birth of my son I suffered from "Vaginismus", however, at the time I just thought I was broken. My "broken vagina" affected me physically but it was an emotional struggle as well. Many women in my life also suffered with pain from sex after their babies were born so I knew I wasn't alone. They told me they "just got used to it" but I couldn't see myself living that way.

Sex wasn't just painful, it was literally impossible - IT DIDNT FIT!

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Testimonial by Amanda W.

Heather's unique physical therapy program literally changed my life! After years of struggling with vaginismus, a condition that made it impossible for me to have intercourse and very difficult to use tampons without pain, a gynecologist referred me to Heather. I was nervous for my first appointment, but Heather's professional and friendly demeanor put me at ease. She did a great job explaining each technique she was using to help my muscles relax. Heather uses a combination of internal and external stretches and exercises to relax the pelvic floor and build muscle strength. Her specially developed home program helped me quickly recover from an issue that seemed insurmountable before meeting Heather. She was optimistic about my progress and incredibly encouraging. Less than 6 months after my first session, I was able to have pain-free sex for the first time in my life! If you are suffering from vaginismus or any other pelvic floor issues, I highly recommend making an appointment with Heather and reading her book!

-- Amanda W., 2/15/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Amanda W.

Heather's unique physical therapy program literally changed my life! After years of struggling with vaginismus, a condition that made it impossible for me to have intercourse and very difficult to use tampons without pain, a gynecologist referred me to Heather. I was nervous for my first appointment, but Heather's professional and friendly demeanor put me at ease. She did a great job explaining each technique she was using to help my muscles relax. Heather uses a combination of internal and external stretches and exercises to relax the pelvic floor and build muscle strength. Her specially developed home program helped me quickly recover from an issue that seemed insurmountable before meeting Heather. She was optimistic about my progress and incredibly encouraging. Less than 6 months after my first session, I was able to have pain-free sex for the first time in my life! If you are suffering from vaginismus or any other pelvic floor issues, I highly recommend making an appointment with Heather and reading her book!

-- Amanda W., 2/15/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by Julie T.

Femina PT (née Fusion Wellness & Physical Therapy) has honestly changed my life. Before receiving treatment at Femina, I was going doctor to doctor to try and find the answer to my pelvic pain. It has taken me YEARS to find someone that can help fix this. It wasn't until my gynecologist recommended your clinic that I finally felt relief. My pelvic pain is almost gone, and granted I still have a lot more to work on with Laureen (my PT), my original problem is nearly cured. I am so grateful to her.

What is even better is she gave me practical exercises to do at home that were not tedious and provided instant (and lasting) relief. Although I mainly work with Laureen, my interaction with the owner (Heather) has been great. She is very generous, kind, and committed to her business.

It hurts to know there are women out there suffering who will never know or have the opportunity to work with women like Laureen and Heather because this issue is hardly talked about and this field is so rare. I hope more doctors and physical therapists see the value in this work and can relieve more woman of their pain.

-- Julie T., 12/4/16 via Yelp!

Testimonial by M.M.

My husband and I were married for 5 years and unable to have intercourse, but I never knew why. After numerous awful experiences at doctor’s offices (where many doctors told me I “just needed to relax”), a surgery that didn’t fix the problem, and a year of owning dilators that didn’t get me anywhere, someone finally referred me to Heather for Physical Therapy. I finally had answers and information from someone who knew exactly what I was dealing with!

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