Sex & Chinese Medicine: Q & A with Jill Blakeway
Are you looking to spice up things for Valentine's Day? Did you know that there are four common problems that women have in their sex life? What about yin and yang and the role they play in our sexual health? Don't worry, Jill Blakeway is here to help. Jill is the author of Making Babies, a licensed and board certified acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of NYC's YinOva Center, and she tells us how Chinese medicine can help heat things up in the bedroom.
MBG: How can acupuncture help one's libido?
JB: Acupuncture has an effect on the neurological system, the endocrine system and the cardiovascular system, all of which are involved in sexual response. There is a long history in Chinese medicine of using acupuncture and Chinese herbs to increase sexual desire and performance. At the YinOva Center, there are herbs we use to treat erectile dysfunction, for example. And for women who have trouble reaching orgasm, we use acupuncture to move Qi in the channels. Unfortunately these problems are fairly common in our practice, but happily, we can treat them quite successfully.
What are the ways that you'd categorize lack of libido?
The problems women have with their sex life can be divided into four areas:
- Lack of desire
- Lack of arousal
- Failure to orgasm
- Pain or discomfort with intercourse
Each of these areas have different diagnoses in Chinese medicine and are treated with a different combination of herbs and regular acupuncture treatments.
Lack of libido in women is usually diagnosed as weak kidney Qi and heart blood deficiency. The kidneys are considered to be the root of reproductive energy, and the emotions as reflected by the heart also play a vital role in female sexuality. So to nourish both the heart and the kidneys, we use a combination of herbs.
Lack of arousal is also related to weak kidney energy but in this case, it is attributed to weak kidney yin. Yin is what gives our bodies lubrication. At the YinOva Center, we have found that giving our patients herbs to tonify kidney yin can really help our female patients become more easily aroused.
Failure to orgasm is related to stagnation, more specifically, stagnation of liver Qi. In Chinese medicine the liver channel flows through the genitals and the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of energy throughout the body. Lack of orgasm is related to an interruption in this energy flow. We give these patients Qi-moving herbs which can help a great deal.
Painful intercourse is also related to stagnation in Chinese medicine – blood stagnation. As in Western medicine where painful intercourse is associated with a diagnosis of endometriosis or fibroids, in Chinese medicine the pain is attributed to some kind of local obstruction. We give these patients blood moving herbs as well as referring them to their GYN for further investigation.
Yin and yang -- what do they mean and why are they so important?
Yin refers to our body's substance and describes the way our body is nourished, moistened and cooled. Its functions include how receptive we are.
Yang refers to our body's energy and describes the way our body creates movement and transformation. Its functions include our ability to initiate.
To be healthy sexually, our bodies need a balance of yin and yang and also in our relationships, we need balance between yin and yang. The whole act of having sex is a complex interplay of yin and yang in Chinese medicine.
• Initiating sex requires yang energy from either partner
• Being receptive to this initiation and transforming it into something mutual requires yin energy from the other partner
• The man's erection is yang
• The woman's ability to receive is yin
From here, lovemaking contains an interplay of yin and yang, or giving and receiving. This is true for gay and lesbian couples as well as for straight couples.
In my experience, relationships with an imbalance of yin and yang emotionally often result in sexual problems. So if one partner is very dominant and one very yielding, the resulting imbalance of yin and yang can lead to problems in the bedroom. Chinese medicine teaches us to first find balance within ourselves and then strive for balance in our relationships. This is echoed in modern psychology, where patients are taught to differentiate themselves in order to be able to merge healthily as a couple.
Can you explain Qi and the role it plays in sex?
Qi is often translated as "life force" and is best summed up by its functions. It refers to all the ways our body is dynamic in that Qi is said to create warmth, movement, transformation, protection and retention. Qi can get weak when we get run down, which can lead to low libido or erectile dysfunction. Qi can also become stagnant -- this can lead to problems with orgasm or premature ejaculation.
What are 3-5 foods that you'd recommend?
Warming and pungent foods help the body's yang energy so I would suggest ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.
Cooling nourishing foods support the body's yin energy so I would suggest deep sea and cold water fish, including salmon, sardines, and shellfish. The omega-3 fatty acids in these fish are also good for one's sexual health.
What's one thing someone can do right now to spice up their Valentine's day?
Stop worrying about performance and focus on the energetic connection with your partner. We are constantly bombarded with sexual images in the media. They make sex into something most of us feel we can't live up to. However, sex is about intimacy and connection. In Chinese medicine this energetic connection is considered to be a spiritual experience. It is a way of understanding oneness with the divine through connection to another human being.
The first step towards achieving an energetic connection with your partner is to focus on each other and block out distractions. The simplest way to do this is to synchronize your breathing rhythms. Begin by lying comfortably on your sides, facing each other, your hand on his chest and his on yours. Look into each other's eyes to increase intimacy and connection, and take slow, deep breaths together until your breathing matches up effortlessly. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the present and focus on what you are feeling; focus on being with your partner. This simple act helps you to experience connection and establishes a slow steady pace from which to begin lovemaking.
Another useful exercise, rather than breathing in unison, is when one inhales as the other exhales and vice versa. This give and take action mimics the interplay of yin and yang during sex and sets the tone for the energetic give and take to come.
For more on Jill: