Sex is complex. Yet the complexities of sex aren't talked about often enough. In the media, intercourse is often portrayed as simple, sensual, and tantalizing—with little room for error. However, in real life, there's a laundry list of intricacies that get in the way of a satisfying sex life: orgasm anxiety, work stress, body image issues, past trauma, erectile dysfunction, age- or medication-related libido decline, and perimenopause symptoms, to name a few.
So what if needles could fix it all? Acupuncture needles, that is. It's a pretty strange thought that having a stranger stick needles into you might ultimately spice things up between you and your partner during intercourse, but when you think about the fact that, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, sex is fundamentally an intricate exchange of energy between two people, acupuncture begins making a lot of sense.
According to Irina Logman L.Ac., MSTOM-certified acupuncturist and owner of Advanced Holistic Center in NYC, acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that works to balance energy in the body. More specifically, masculine and feminine energy that lives within each of us—or the "yin and the yang." When yin and yang are in harmony, Logman says, there is balance. And where there is balance, there is great sex.
How acupuncture treats sexual problems.
The dictionary definition of yin and yang reads, "opposite forces that are interconnected and counterbalancing." Logman tells me that, when it comes to Chinese medicine, yin is "female" energy (cooling, calming, and feminine), while yang is "male" energy (anger, fire, and aggression). No matter your gender, everyone holds both yin and yang within them. "Every organ has both energies, and if they're out of balance, you have issues [in the bedroom]," the acupuncturist tells me. That's where acupuncture's relationship to sexual functioning comes into play.
The main yin-yang-inhabited organs Logman focuses on are the kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart. It's like a ripple effect, she tells me: Each of these four organs holds feminine and masculine energy, and this delicate energetic balance drives an entire holistic body system—a system that's heavily reliant on emotions. "All internal imbalances come from energetic, emotional imbalance," Logman tells me. "[And] this comes through during sexual performance because it's when you're most vulnerable."
For example, fear is the emotion that ties to the kidneys—and in Chinese medicine, the kidneys govern hormones. Logman explains, "When a baby gets scared, they pee—[that's because] fear is a loss of control in the kidney. When you're an adult you suppress this natural function (to pee wherever) so you hold tension in that area." For women, this dominance in fear or kidney imbalance presents itself as tension being held in the lower abdomen/uterus, which can manifest as (for example) an inability to reach climax.
According to Logman, getting to the root of the issue during acupuncture and addressing the cause rather than the symptom helps heal her clients. If the person above who was experiencing a root-kidney imbalance were to walk into Logman's clinic, she would address the imbalance by placing thin needles in kidney-associated points along the body's 12 meridians acupoints. These points would stimulate and nourish the yin deficiency in the body and help the body and mind let go of fear, thus restoring vitality and libido. "After just a few sessions, most people begin to feel a difference," says Logman.
The science behind acupuncture's effect on sex.
If yin and yang and our organs' feminine and masculine energies are too hippie-dippy for you, rest-assured, acupuncture is scientifically grounded. Research has proved time and time again that stress and anxiety are powerful libido killers. Stress can mess with your hormone levels, directly diminishing sex drive physiologically, or simply cause a lack of motivation to engage in intercourse. For folks with penises, research shows anxiety is linked to premature ejaculation—a dysfunction that in and of itself causes even more distress and trepidation during sex.
Acupuncture is an effective salve against these psychological blockades: If anxiety is the main issue interfering with your sex life, one study shows that attending acupuncture "achieves the superior and quick effect on general anxiety disorder as compared with clonazepam [an anti-anxiety medication]" due to the acupoints stimulating positive increases of brain waves in patients. Or perhaps you're on an antidepressant with the side effect of loss of libido, impotence, or inability to reach orgasm. Research published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine supports the efficacy of 12 weeks of acupuncture treatments in improving males' sexual functioning, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, as well as females' libido and lubrication. Acupuncture can also strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which are key to sexual functioning for people with vaginas, and increase blood flow in general, which makes for easier erections.
The difference between quick, prescriptive Western medicine in order to address sexual dysfunctions and traditional Chinese medicine like acupuncture is that the latter addresses the entire body rather than isolating the symptom. If someone was experiencing erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness that was negatively affecting their sex life, they might go to the doctor and get a prescription for medication that would temporarily resolve the issue. And while this does often work short-term, Logman tells me that in Chinese medicine a core belief is that "without adjusting emotions and feelings, the physical body cannot be rescued." By going to acupuncture on a regular basis, you're addressing the entire body.
"[In acupuncture], you start with the root of the problem," explains Logman. "For example, if we're stimulating the kidney [during treatment], it creates a ripple effect, boosting any other organs that are out of balance and sending energy throughout the body." Soon enough, one begins noticing positive side effects in the bedroom.
"The mind-body connection is the root—there is no other answer," says Logman. "Acupuncture goes to the root. Are you an angry person? Do you have a lot of fears? Do you worry excessively? [These emotions] are the root of where your [sex-related] issues are deriving from."
Soothing your state of mind.
For a lot of people, the most common and desirable side effect of acupuncture is finally receiving permission to slow down. "Our society today is go-go-go, and when we finally get to stop [and relax], energy begins moving more smoothly." During a typical acupuncture session, you'll lie down on a table for 30 minutes to an hour, with no place to be but with your breath and body in the present. The strategically placed needles, according to Logman, stimulate a release of endorphins and dopamine (aka the "happy hormones"), and all of this creates a ripple effect of calm, tranquillity, and balance throughout the body.
"So your relationship with your partner improves because you're in a different state of mind and your hormones have shifted," says Logman. "[You become] more adaptable in both body and mind to external stressors." In other words, the stress of the world is the same, but because of acupuncture, you are more robust.
"You can't always change your lifestyle, but you can make time for more frequent acupuncture treatments, which will make you more resilient to being pushed back into the same symptomatology [that caused] your sexual complications in the first place," explains Logman. She recommends sessions once or twice a week for the best results because the more frequent acupuncture treatments you attend, the fewer external stressors will affect you, and the less you'll need to change your environment. "Attending regular treatments is a key component of balancing your mind and regulating your emotions so you'll begin noticing decreased sexual dysfunction," Logman says.
It takes two.
Acupuncture could be a great new activity to try with your partner, according to Logman. "I often recommend couples come in together because it takes two," she tells me. "One of the best things to do is to come together and set an intention for your relationship. This way, you're on the same page—your mind and energy begin to transform, and sexual energy flows more intentionally."
Whether it's private sessions or community acupuncture, just a few sessions on a regular basis goes a long way. However, if attending weekly or biweekly acupuncture sessions isn't in your scope, Logman notes that even infrequent acupuncture (say, once a month or every few months) along with making subtle shifts in your lifestyle is definitely worthwhile. Those shifts could include adding five minutes of meditation in the morning, practicing deep breathing throughout the day, or simply implementing more verbal communication during sex with your partner.
Like acupuncture, these shifts are the beginning of "holding space for your body and the innate intelligence of your consciousness," as Logman puts it. And, as a consequence of that, the beginning of some seriously mind-blowing sex.
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