Ladies, your heart may have a lot more to do with your libido than you realize. (Photo: Afterstories/tumblr)
Have a low libido? Your heartbeat may have something to do with it.
A small new study published in the journal Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback shows a link between a woman’s overall sexual health and her heart rate variability (HRV), i.e. the time that lapses between heartbeats.
For the study, researchers assessed the ability to become aroused, overall sexual function, and resting HRV of 72 women, ages 18 to 39. Those with a lower-than-normal HRV were “significantly more likely” to say they had difficulty becoming aroused and have sexual dysfunction than those with a normal or above-average HRV. As a result, researchers concluded that low HRV may be a risk factor for a low libido in women.
While it sounds surprising that your heartbeat could be linked with your ability to feel aroused, study co-author Amelia Stanton tells Yahoo Health that she wasn’t shocked by the findings given that the female libido is complicated.
Female sexual function depends heavily on the interplay between two branches of the autonomic nervous system (i.e. the part of the nervous system that you don’t consciously control, such as your breathing, heart beat, and digestion), she explains. Low HRV has been linked to other psychological conditions that are associated with an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, including depression and anxiety, so it stands to reason that it could impact libido, too.
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“While we weren’t necessarily surprised, we were thrilled to identify a potential physiological risk factor of female sexual dysfunction in women,” she says. “There are no other established physiological markers at this time.”
But why does this happen? Stanton says it has a lot to do with blood pressure. HRV is a marker of cardiovascular health, which is critical for a woman’s genitals to feel aroused, she explains.
When people have low HRV, their bodies can’t adjust to changing external demands, like a sexually charged situation. If your heart rate doesn’t speed up when you should feel aroused, then the message won’t get to your genitals. And since “sexual arousal in women is largely a matter of blood pressure in the genitals,” Stanton points out, the end result is a low libido.
But low HRV doesn’t just impact arousal in women: Research published in theInternational Neurology Journal in 2011 found a link between an unusual HRV and men who suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Luckily, having low HRV doesn’t necessarily mean a person is doomed to life with a low libido: Clinical sexologist Eric Marlowe Garrison tells Yahoo Health that there are steps women can take to raise their HRV.
Low HRV is typically associated with stress and an unhealthy lifestyle, so he recommends getting more sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Stress-reducers like meditation can also be helpful, he says, as well as drinking more green tea. (According to research published in the journal Biological Psychology, L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea leaves, acts as a de-stresser and can improve HRV.)
Of course, a low libido can be caused by more than low HRV, but Garrison says it’s a good idea to undergo lifestyle changes as a first step.
Stanton is also conducting more research on things women can do to raise their HRV and improve their libidos. “There are so many factors that contribute to sexual health,” she says, “but we think HRV is particularly important.”
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