Unexpected Ways Your Gut Affects Your Sex Life

The more science is uncovering about our gut and the many different microorganisms that inhabit it, the more areas of our health we learn are connected to them. Want to sleep better? Your gut can help you with that. Wish to stave off health conditions like heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and mental health issues, while also maintaining a healthy immune system? The answer might lie in some part of your digestive system. 

If you thought you knew everything you wanted to know about gut health, you may want to think again. Turns out, your gut microbiome plays a role in your sex life too. 

For starters, the most obvious way in which your sex life might be impacted has to do with how your digestion process makes your body feel. Think about the last time you had something for lunch that didn't quite sit well in your stomach. If you're feeling bloated, gassy, nauseous, or constipated, or if you're running to the bathroom with diarrhea every few minutes, it's not hard to see how this can dampen your mood in the bedroom. Closely tied to this, is how gut-related chronic conditions or health conditions influenced by your gut can mess with your intimacy. 

Chronic gut conditions can hinder your sex life

While inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are disorders that have to do with someone's gut directly, type 2 diabetes and heart disease also share unexpected links with your gut health (per Better Health Channel).  

With diseases like Crohn's, the health condition's trajectory which involves symptoms like stomach cramps, bloody stools, rectal bleeding, weight loss, urgent bowel movements, and fever can become hindrances to your sex life. Sometimes, the medications and surgeries that come with managing these autoimmune diseases can also affect intimacy. For example, it is not uncommon for someone with Crohn's or colitis to have a permanent or temporary stoma, and having an ostomy bag can be an emotionally challenging aspect when it comes to sex.   

Additionally, type 2 diabetes is a risk factor when it comes to erectile dysfunction. The same can be said of cardiovascular disease. Other inflammatory conditions that are linked to your gut, like inflammatory arthritis, have also been associated with sexual dysfunction, per a 2020 study published in Arthritis Care and Research. 

Your gut can impact mood-related hormones

We mentioned before how it's important to feel good in your body to feel good in the bedroom. The same can be said for your mind. Just as there's a connection between having sex and a corresponding mood boost, if you're sad or depressed, anxious, or irritable, the chances are that you won't be in the right headspace for sex.

It turns out that your gut is responsible for producing or influencing the production of a few different mood-related hormones like serotonin (also known as the happiness hormone), dopamine, and the stress hormones corticosterone and adrenocorticotrophin. In fact, your gut microbiome produces 95% of your supply of serotonin, according to the American Psychological Association, and low serotonin levels have been linked with low sex drive (per Healthline).  

Dopamine, also known as the "feel-good hormone" is associated with your brain's reward and pleasure center. As explained by registered nutritionist, Clarissa Lenherr, "The gut helps in producing certain precursors to dopamine, such as tyrosine. If there is an imbalance in gut health, it can affect the availability of these precursors, leading to changes in dopamine levels and subsequently impacting sexual motivation." 

Gut issues can make you tired and low on energy

In order to enjoy a good sex life, you need stamina. There are a few different ways in which your gut influences your energy levels, one of which has to do with something we discussed above — your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that's also involved in how well you sleep, working in conjunction with dopamine and melatonin. And quality sleep is important when it comes to energy levels. 

If you're consistently getting tired after sex or worse yet, you're so tired that you're not in the mood for sex, it is possible that you're not absorbing nutrients well. Your gut is directly involved in absorbing essential nutrients from the foods and drinks you consume, most of which are essential for energy levels, like vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, your gut microbes help create B vitamins which play an important role in processing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to generate energy, and taking essential nutrients and oxygen through the body. 

Per nutrition researcher, Anthony Thomas (via Healthline), a healthy gut prevents sugar crashes (and corresponding energy dips) too, by influencing the regulation of blood sugar levels — yet another unexpected reason to thank your gut for your energy levels.

Your gut can also influence sex hormones

Whether you are born a man or a woman, testosterone plays a part when it comes to your libido. This is why testosterone supplements are sometimes prescribed if you've lost your sex drive.  

According to double board-certified medical doctor and nutritionist Dr. Amy Shah (via Rena Malik on YouTube), research has shown that testosterone levels actually correlate with the quality of your gut health. "Gut bacteria actually metabolize and re-circulate testosterone into the system ... so we can improve our testosterone levels by actually improving gut health," explained Dr. Shah. 

Additionally, there is a specific collection of gut bacteria, called the "estrobolome" that is involved in metabolizing and regulating the estrogen circulating in your system. Healthy estrogen levels are a prerequisite for sexual desire and vaginal lubrication in women. In men, estradiol, the primary form of estrogen, is linked with libido regulation, erectile function, and the sperm cell production process.

Gut health and your sex life: What you can do about it

Now that you know all of the different ways in which your gut health and intimacy are connected, how do you go about fixing any problems in your sex life that you think might be related to your gut health? Experts caution that the gut microbiome and how it affects your health, and low sex drive and what could be causing it are both very complicated areas of study, so it's best not to jump to conclusions that your problems in the bedroom are definitely related to what's happening in your gut. Your lifestyle, underlying health conditions, and even your relationship quality could be to blame when it comes to problems in the bedroom.

That being said, if you're experiencing other symptoms like brain fog, pain in your joints, diarrhea, constipation, mood changes, fatigue, bad sleep quality, cravings, and fluctuations in weight, you may want to see a gastroenterologist, explained the physician, scientist, and author Dr. William W. Li (via Healthline). "A gastroenterologist will be able to recommend an endoscopy, colonoscopy, or a scan of your abdomen to find out what's up. They also may be able to check your microbiome for abnormalities by sending a stool sample for testing," explained the doctor. 

You could also work with a dietician to find natural ways to boost your sex drive — like consuming plenty of gut-friendly fiber, reducing highly processed foods, and managing your stress levels. Again, though, if underlying chronic conditions like IBD are involved, it is important to work with your specialist and dietitian before making any drastic changes to your diet.