Popular culture leads us to believe that everyone is having hot sex and flaming orgasms (not the alcoholic beverage) all the time. But the truth is that some form of sexual dysfunction is fairly common. Statistics span wide ranges and recent studies are scarce, but one such scientific review found that the global prevalence of erectile dysfunction (ED)—the difficulty for a man to achieve and maintain an erection—ranged from 3% to over 75%.
And that’s just one type of sexual dysfunction. And one that’s just in men.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that approximately 43% of women and about 1/3 of men have some degree of sexual dysfunction. In short, sexual dysfunction deprives you of either having or enjoying sexual activity.
But not to worry—if you have a problem in the boudoir (or the backseat of your car), there are some solutions. Could omega-3s play a role in supporting healthy sexual function? Maybe.
What is—and What Causes—Sexual Dysfunction?
It’s important to first discuss the categories and causes of this condition, especially as it’s not a popular topic at the dinner table. No one wants to fess up that they’re not able to orgasm or that they have little to no desire to do the horizontal mambo with their partner. But it doesn’t have to be a public discussion—talking to your doctor or a therapist can put you on a path to finding the right solution.
There are four categories of sexual dysfunction and the causes can be physical or psychological:
- You’re just not interested. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about the problem you’re having with your boss, or you’re exhausted from cleaning the house all day.
- You can’t get aroused. This one’s not just for men.
- You can’t climax. Women’s anatomy can be trickier in this area, but men, too, sometimes just can’t get there. Although premature ejaculation is much more common for men.
- You can’t get through the pain to get to the pleasure. Especially for some women, intercourse can be painful, but men are not immune to this problem.
Some of the psychological factors for sexual dysfunction include the following: depression, stress, embarrassment to be seen naked, performance anxiety, just plain old anxiety, religious guilt, parental guilt, your partner is ticking you off. And don’t forget previous sexual trauma like rape or incest.
It’s all a lot to unpack.
As for the physical factors, some medications can be to blame. Conditions such as hormonal imbalances, diabetes, heart problems, neurological disorders, and drug abuse can factor in. There’s a fine line between a drink before sex to relax you and one drink too many to disable your ability to have or enjoy—or even remember afterwards—sex.
What Can Help Improve Sexual Health?
The good news is there are plenty of popular remedies for improving your sex life. This post lists 13 of them. For example:
- prescription drugs (do we need to mention the V drug for ED—or have you seen the commercials?);
- talk therapy (with your partner, but perhaps start with a professional therapist);
- focus on foreplay (remember, enjoying the journey may make the end destination better);
- lifestyle changes (exercise more, get a handle on your health conditions, communicate openly, do something—anything!—nice for your partner, find ways to reduce stress, and more).
Let’s not forget that proper diet (including food and some dietary supplements) also may help.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. What you eat matters. If you’re eating, (but not overeating), foods that will keep your heart healthy and protect against other health conditions and help you maintain a healthy weight, you’re probably giving yourself a leg up on your sex life.
That means fruits and vegetables, fatty fish filled with omega-3 EPA and DHA, and whole grains. There’s no shortage of articles that point to specific foods that may boost libido, improve blood flow, heart health and improve your stamina.
Does Omega-3 Help Sexually?
What about dietary supplements for sexual health?
There are plenty of companies selling a plethora of botanical supplements for sexual health. There may not be as many studies as products; however, botanicals can also rely on a history of use—many plant-based products including herbs have been used for thousands of years, and still today, are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Be wary if the products sold as dietary supplements claim to treat sexual dysfunction as that is not a legal claim and may also be an overpromise.
But several botanical supplements may help some of the symptoms that cause some problems of sexual dysfunction.
Here are a few:
- Horny goat weed—the name sounds promising. Men take it as it may increase blood flow and therefore assist with ED; women try it as it also contains phytoestrogens that somewhat mimic estrogen. Read more here and here.
- Ashwagandha—growing in popularity for its ability to protect your immune function, this herb is also used in Ayurvedic medicine for its libido-enhancing properties. Read more here.
- Chamomile—is one of a number of herbal ingredients used to help with relaxation and calm nerves and muscle spasms. Being relaxed may help with anxiety-related sexual dysfunction. Read more here.
- Ginseng—known to increase nitric oxide levels, this botanical may help with ED; but it may also have benefits for both sexes as it may increase your body’s dopamine levels. Some research has shown that ginseng improved sexual desire, satisfaction and orgasm in a subset of women. Read more about that here.
What Role Do Vitamins Play?
It is important to remember that improving conditions that may interfere with sexual function is a more foundational (or indirect) way to improve your sex life. So be sure you’re getting enough of these letter vitamins:
- Vitamin D—known for its role in bone health, immune health, cardiovascular health and more, according to this article it’s also one of the most studied vitamins for ED. One 2020 study indicated the low levels of vitamin D increase ED symptoms, suggesting the need to keep your vitamin D levels sufficient.
- Vitamin B—the B vitamins are known as energy enhancers. This study with vitamin B9 (folate) associated ED with a folate deficiency, while a more recent study demonstrated that folic acid supplements showed some improvements in the severity of ED.
- Vitamin E—this antioxidant is associated with improving blood flow and oxygen to the sexual organs as well as helping with testosterone and estrogen production.
This article shares a total of 23 supplements that may help improve female libido, including omega-3 fatty acids. Not only are omega-3s known to help keep your heart healthy, but omega-3s, says the author, help reduce anxiety thereby potentially increasing your libido, boost dopamine levels to promote arousal and stimulate hormone synthesis.
Omega-3 Sexual Benefits
That takes us back to where we started earlier in this blog asking whether omega-3s play a role in supporting healthy sexual function?
The topic is timely because a newly published study offers hope from omega-3 supplementation for pregnant women with concerns about their sexual function, particularly from anxiety.
The double-blind randomized controlled trial was conducted on a population of 124 pregnant women, divided into two groups of 62 participants, at weeks 16-22 of pregnancy. The intervention group received 300 mg of omega-3 supplements daily while the control group were given a once-a-day placebo and the trial was conducted for 8 weeks.
The data was collected through a demographic questionnaire, three 24- hour dietary recalls and use of the female sexual function index (FSFI) and the Van den Bergh Pregnancy-Related Anxiety Questionnaire (PRAQ).
Prior to intervention, baseline scores for sexual function showed no statistically significant differences between the two groups. However, at weeks four and eight, following intervention, the mean total score of sexual function was significantly higher in those treated with omega-3s compared to those who weren’t.
Likewise, prior to the intervention, both groups showed no statistically significant differences with regard to gestational anxiety. At four and eight weeks, the intervention group showed a significantly lower mean total score for gestational anxiety compared to the control group.
Based on the three 24-hour dietary recalls, the differences between the two groups on the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) intake from daily energy was not statistically significant from baseline through follow-up at eight weeks.
The findings led the study authors to conclude that omega-3 supplementation could improve sexual function in pregnant women by preventing increased pregnancy anxiety. They also advised that more studies were needed to prove whether omega-3s were effective on female sexual function during pregnancy.
More Research on Omega-3s and Sexual Function
This was not the first study on the role of omega-3s on sexual function.
Another study, which we covered an early 2020 blog, looked at how omega-3 fish oil supplements might impact fertility in men—and the results were promising, suggesting an association between omega-3s and testicular function.
The observational study, published in JAMA Network Open, looked at young, healthy men in the general population and after examining the data from 1,700 of them, the researchers associated taking fish oil supplements with higher sperm count, larger testicles and improved hormone leaves that contribute to male fertility.
According to one of the study co-authors, “…these types of fatty acids are essential to fertility.”
The Bottom Line
When it comes to omega-3 fish oils and sexual function, it’s important to note this area of study, while potentially promising, is still in its infancy, especially in comparison to the robust body of science for other omega-3 benefits like those for heart or brain health.
So, for sure, consider getting enough fish oil in your diet—through foods and nutritional supplements—for all of the proven benefits for your body. And, if this essential nutrient also helps improve your sexual function, consider that icing on the cake.