Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising more, and eating healthier foods, are sometimes recommended for people with sexual problems. But how much of an effect do these changes have? Scientists considered this issue in a recent study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
In particular, they looked at how six lifestyle factors – smoking, alcohol use, physical activity, diet, caffeine consumption and cannabis use – affected three sexual health outcomes – female sexual dysfunction, erectile dysfunction (ED) and premature ejaculation.
The female sexual dysfunction includes a wide range of sexual problems such as vaginal dryness, low desire and interest or pain during intercourse. It is estimated that 41% of pre-menopausal women worldwide have some degree of sexual dysfunction.
The researchers reviewed 89 medical studies related to lifestyle and sexual problems. Overall, the studies included almost 350,000 people worldwide. On average, participants were about 49 years old.
For women, physical activity was linked to a lower risk of sexual dysfunction. Following a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables seemed to help as well. But the researchers found no link between smoking, alcohol use and caffeine intake with women’s sexual health.
Men who smoked were more likely to have erectile dysfunction (ED). Heavier smokers tend to have more severe cases of erectile dysfunction. There was also an association with physical activity. Erectile dysfunction was more common in men who exercise less. Moderate alcohol consumption (an average of 8 drinks per week) was associated with a lower risk of ED, but high consumption (an average of 23 drinks per week) was not. Following a healthy diet seemed to be good for erections.
Changing lifestyle habits can improve overall health, which can have sexual benefits. For example, low testosterone and obesity can interfere with sexual function. But physical activity can increase testosterone levels and help people lose weight. Likewise, diabetes is associated with sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction, in men and poor lubrication in women. But physical activity can lessen the effects of diabetes and, in turn, the sexual impact.
The authors noted that the effects on sexual health of diet, caffeine and cannabis were not as widely studied as other lifestyle factors, so their conclusions were “less robust”.
They added that there were fewer studies related to women’s sexual health and premature ejaculation and recommended additional studies in these areas.