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Arousal & Chocolate

Does chocolate actually has an effect on sexual arousal? How does it work?

Eat 4 ounces of 70% chocolate, and call me in the morning.

Looking for a quick, easy boost for your sexual arousal? Eat dark chocolate, (“straight-up” without other toffee, caramel, sugar-dense junk on it), every day in several doses. Not only will you have the opportunity to slow down and savor something pleasurable melting slowly in your mouth, making your salivary glands weep as that dense “food-of-the-gods” wraps itself around your tongue…

…you’ll also be giving your arousal system a boost in one of the most important ways possible. You’ll be tuning and spiffing up the little cells inside of your body that are the well-springs of your sexual arousal.

The Scoop on Sexual Arousal

(Jump ahead for those who just want the quick and dirty chocolate prescription.)

In a nutshell, sexual arousal depends upon two different things functioning: your nerves and your blood vessels. The nerves have to be healthy enough to transmit pleasure information to and from your brain, skin, genitals, ears, eyes–all over, really. When the brain is willing to be sexual and this information begins zinging around your nervous system, its next influence is on small little blood vessels in your genitals.

Untidy Habits Kill Sexual Arousal

Everything would be fine if we cared for our little blood vessels, but most of us are pretty poor custodians. Frankly, most of us are slobs on the inside. We eat “junk food”. We don’t bother with diets that include “vessel vacuum cleaners”: healthy, vessel-protective substances that could allow our capillaries to function more effectively. But blood vessel dysfunction is not only due to little clogged-up vessels: we’re also poisoning the inside of our little vessels. We breathe in toxic air pollution (including smoking). We neglect healthy workouts, all while living our lives of quiet desperation, stressed out and angry at that *@#* driver ahead of us. (Sheesh.) Then, we expect our blood vessels to perform sexual miracles?

To be healthy, blood vessels need to be supple and flexible, so they can transport vital fluids to other parts of our body. When the vessels are poisoned, their inner lining, something called “endothelial cells,” can’t work properly, and become underfed, under-exercised and inflexible. Stiff, really.

Now I know this seems contrary, but “stiff” is bad for sexual arousal. (I know you’re thinking stiff = hard[on], but nothing could be further from the truth.) Flexibility is critical to blood vessels being able to swell and transport fluids here and there. Fluids flowing and getting temporarily trapped in the genitals is the cause of that stiff and swollen experience.

So, daily exercise combined with diets containing predominantly fruits and vegetables, good oils (olive, canola, etc.) non-beef protein sources, good and varied amounts of spices and herbs, and allowing yourself only a smattering of white things (flour, sugars, etc.) is a SEX-HEALTHY way to live.

What’s Chocolate Got to Do, Got to Do With It?

Consuming dark chocolate on a daily basis can boost your sexual arousal potential. If there was one food that you could eat in moderation, was enjoyable to consume, left you feeling satisfied, happy and relaxed, that can be manufactured in a way respectful to the earth and the people processing it, you would eat it, right? And, what if this same food actually REVERSED some of the negative effects of some of our other life choices (smoking damage to blood vessels), lowered our bad cholesterol, helped our healthy insulin system work more effectively, and stripped our dangerous sugar peaks out of our lives? You’d eat it, right?

Chocolate, the partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree, is this impressive wonder food, determined to be the “food of the gods” by Mayan leaders. Multiple studies (1,2) have shown intriguing leads into understanding that there are positive effects from diets rich in dark chocolate. In addition, research in a leading heart research magazine (3) confirms that chocolate has direct positive effects on enhancing the flexibility and function of the “endothelial layer” of small blood vessels – even in participants who smoked cigarettes. The endothelial layer, the inner layer of a blood vessel, itself secretes a gas (nitric oxide) which inhibits irritation (inflammation) and destruction (oxidation) of the lining, and keeps all the cells healthy and in their proper place. Without this protection, the cells can’t work properly, so blood can’t flow through. If blood can’t flow through the little vessels, then no amount of sexual information coming in through the nerves will cause sexual arousal/engorgement (swelling) to occur. The importance of endothelial health to sexual arousal has been underscored by multiple studies, both for healthy persons , (4,5), and people with heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes (6,7). Poor blood flow, by itself, can further cause damage to parts of the body which swell with sexual arousal (clitoris/cavernosal sinus’)(8,9).

What’s Chocolate, but a second-hand dessert?

Unfortunately, there are many chocolate-negative messages to combat. Consider these facts:

  1. Regular chocolate consumption suppresses chocolate cravings (10).
  2. Dark chocolate improves glycemic control, allowing insulin and blood sugar to work at lower levels. (11,12)
  3. Eating chocolate infuses PEA & theobromide into our blood streams for a light, positive buzz.
    • Phenylethylamine–a neuromodulator “love hormone” in the adrenaline family–helps us feel sexy, alive, and loved.
    • Theobromide–a methylxanthine–causes mild mood elevation without an increase in stress, also enhances our parasympathetic/cholinergic system which enhances early sexual arousal into our blood.
  4. Eating chocolate releases endorphins (pleasure neuromodulators) into our systems. Other things that do this are:
    • ribald laughter,
    • acupressure and acupuncture,
    • warm hydro-massage,
    • exercise.
  5. Although chocolate contains caffeine, a very large study again confirms that chocolate does NOT cause heart arrhythmias (13).
  6. Although sugar is associated with some types of cancer (14), chocolate itself is anti-inflammatory (15). Don’t eat “milk” chocolate; eat the good stuff that’s at least 70% cacao, or nothing!
  7. Long-term diet studies of chocolate-consuming men show that their chances of dying of heart disease were cut in half. The more chocolate they ate, the higher the blood system health benefit (16).

Your Mother was Right.

If you want to experience the positive sexual benefits of chocolate consider the following guidelines:

  1. Clean your room.
    • Regularly eat chocolate: for fairly tidy people, you can get away with 1-2 oz 70% chocolate per day. Split this dose into several small doses each day, and it won’t seem so much.
    • For not-so-tidy bodykeepers, consider increasing your chocolate to 3 to 4 ounces per day (in split doses). Do be tidy about only eating the 70% chocolate, and don’t cheat by eating commercial candy bars colored with chocolate (those don’t count as good).
    • When you feel the need to knosh on something sweet, eat a small square of 70% dark chocolate. You’ll suppress your appetite, and you’ll be doing your blood sugar a favor.
    • Try to eat at least 60% cacao. If the item in question doesn’t list the “% cacao”, or “% cocoa solids” don’t eat it. Save yourself for a higher goal.
    • Become a health snob on your sex life’s behalf: turn away from milk chocolate. Gift those chocolate bunnies to somebody else. Resist, resist, resist milk chocolate.
    • Never, ever eat “white chocolate” again. This fake “un-chocolate”, reverses all of your good chocolate habits.
  2. Stop Smoking.
    • Although chocolate can reverse some of the short term damage smoking can bring to your blood vessels, imagine your sexual prowess if you never smoked at all.
    • You puff, and Mr. or Ms. Willy takes a hit. (In other words: your arousal & erections are gonna go bye-bye.)
  3. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables.
    • Cacao, after all, is the fermented fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. The unique health benefits likely come from two features: the antioxidants in the fruit seeds, and the high cacao fat content which allows these antioxidants to penetrate and protect cell membranes.
    • Likewise, colorful fruits and vegetables have different kinds of antioxidants which protect different kinds of cell parts.
    • In general, the more color, the more antioxidant available. Raw or lightly-cooked food maintains more of the healthy components.
    • When shopping for your healthy chocolate source, please buy organic or sustainable chocolate. This helps us keep the beautiful birds in the air (since they live in the cacao trees).

Take Care and pass the chocolate.

References: (1) Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Nov;74(5):563. (2) Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. J Am Diet Assoc 2003 Feb;103(2):215. (3) Dark chocolate improves endothelial and platelet function. Herman et al. Heart 2006;92:119-20 (4) Insulin as a vascular hormone: implications for the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1998 Mar-Apr;25(3-4):175. (5) Molecular and physiologic actions of insulin related to production of nitric oxide in vascular endothelium. Curr Diab Rep. 2003 Aug;3(4):279. (6) Vascular reactivity. Am J Cardiol. 1999 Jul 8;84(1A):25J. (7) Role of endothelial dysfunction in insulin resistance. Am J Cardiol. 2003 Aug 18;92(4A):10J. (8) Effect of chronic ischemia on constitutive and inducible nitric oxide synthase expression in erectile tissue. J Androl. 2004 May-Jun(3):382. (9) Cyclic AMP-specific and cyclic GMP-specific phosphodiesterase isoenzymes in human cavernous arteries-immunohistochemical distribution and functional significance. World J Urol. 2005 Dec;23(6):405. (10) The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Int J Eat Disord. 2005 Dec;38(4):301. (11) Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Aug;82(2):486. (12) Cocoa reduces blood pressure and insulin resistance and improves endothelium-dependent vasodilation in hypertensives. Hypertension 2005 Dec Aug;46(2):398. (13) Caffeine and risk of atrial fibrillation or flutter: the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):539. (14) Consumption of sweet foods and breast cancer risk in Italy. Ann Oncol. 2005 Oct 25: (15) Flavonoids from Theobroma cacao down-regulate inflammatory mediators. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Nov 2;53(22):8506. (16) Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study. Arch Int Med. 2006 Apr;166:411-417.

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Abuse survivor with high libido

Dear Sex Counselor,

I have a question about sexual abuse. I am a female, age 22, and when I was about 11 I was sexually abused by my mother’s boyfriend. Now, at the age of 22, I think I’m a sex addict – but NOT the sleeping around type. I love porno movies and dirty magazines, and I masturbate a lot to women. I have not been with any men since I was abused, but because I like the feeling of being penetrated I have several sex toys (dildos and anal plugs). Is this common for someone who’s been abused?

First, I want to say that you may not be all that abnormal in your enjoying masturbation, explicit videos and magazines, and penetration. While some women who have experienced sexual abuse do indeed become over-sexualized later in life, this is only a concern if your sexual activity either interferes with your other life activities (eating, sleeping, or working) or is putting you into dangerous situations.

I want to encourage you to seek some counseling to understand how the abuse affects you now, and how it might affect you when you choose to have sexual relationships with other people. But do remember that enjoying sex and masturbating on a regular basis is not abnormal. Some women masturbate one or two times a day, and that’s within the normal range of sexual activities. Liking penetration in both the vagina and anus is also normal. If your sexual life does not get in the way of you being healthy, getting to work, socializing with friends, and generally taking care of yourself, then your sexual frequency is normal for you.

So be safe, talk to someone about the abuse if you need to, and enjoy your body. Pleasure is good for you – it’s only a problem if it gets in the way of living a healthy life.

The Sex Counselor

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What is appropriate gynecologist behavior?

Is it a normal procedure for a gynecologist to massage a woman’s clitoris (to orgasm) while performing a pelvic exam to see if the vagina lubricates normally?

Absolutely not!

In fact, such behavior should be reported to your state medical licensing board. This physician should be reprimanded at least, and possibly barred from practicing. That is an inappropriate use of the physician’s power over you, and an invasion of your body. There is no reason for a doctor to perform an action like that – your own verbal explanation should be enough for a physician to get information about how much lubrication you produce.

In addition, there is no such thing as “normal” lubrication. Every woman lubricates differently, and most will produce different amounts from day to day, depending on things like where you are in your menstrual cycle, how much water you are retaining, and whether you are on any kind of medication that might affect your secretions. Only you know what’s normal for you, and your doctor will not learn that from sexually stimulating you, nor should s/he try. If you are feeling traumatized by this experience, please get some support from your local sexual assault support organization. I urge you to report the physician so that s/he does not have the opportunity to do this to others.

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Sex after Hysterectomy

I am 44 year old and had a hysterectomy because of a tumor. I was not sexually active prior to the surgery. I am now in a relationship that could be sexual, but I am nervous. Will the hysterectomy affect my performance? Should I continue to have pelvic exams if I don’t have my uterus, but still have my ovaries?

First, yes you will always need pelvic exams for two different reasons. One is that you will always want a healthcare practitioner to feel the size and shape of your ovaries to check for ovarian cancer. It’s an uncommon cancer (but not rare), and pelvic exams are a good early screen. Second, your health care provider might want to have pap smears at the inside “cuff” (inner edge) where your uterus originally was. Some practitioners feel that some cervical tissue can be left behind and could become diseased – it’s an issue to discuss with your practitioner.

But your main concern involves sexual intimacy. You are asking at the right time, because it’s best to consider your sexual health issues before you get into a sexually intimate situation and “test the equipment out”. The one thing that I often ask women is whether they have done any conditioning of their vulva and vaginal walls since the hysterectomy. This means doing regular massage (with hands, a dildo or a vibrator and lubrication like Liquid Silk) to gently stretch, strengthen and condition your skin. It’s the same process you would go through if you had skin on the back of your hands that was not used to touch: you’d think nothing of using a moisturizing cream to massage the area, bringing in better blood flow. Well, this same process needs to happen for your vulva and vagina. If you have never been sexually intimate, this process may be even more important. Read our Vaginal Renewal article (linked in the right sidebar of this page) for information on how to perform this massage.

The other concern I have is about your pelvic floor muscles. If you have not been regularly touching yourself, doing Kegel exercises, or having orgasms, your pelvic floor muscles may be weak, putting you at risk for stress urinary incontinence. It also means that you may experience less sexual pleasure; these are the muscles that contract pleasurably during orgasm, and the stronger the muscles, the stronger your orgasms. If you need more information about Kegel exercises, read through our pelvic floor strength article (linked in the right sidebar on this page).

It isn’t the case that you should “expect” that you will have discomfort with sexual intimacy. I think it’s better to take some proactive steps to increase your pleasure with intimacy, since that’s what intimacy is all about. I’m so glad that you’ve written before experiencing difficulties.