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Yoga and Sexual Function in Women with Metabolic Syndrome

Women with metabolic syndrome could find some relief for sexual problems by practicing yoga, a new study suggests.

Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of symptoms that can raise a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, among other conditions. Some of the symptoms are abdominal obesity (an “apple shape”), high blood pressure, high triglycerides, a low level of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), and high blood sugar. These symptoms can lead to sexual issues like poor lubrication and low libido.

Korean researchers wanted to know if yoga, a centuries-old Indian practice of physical postures, breathing, and meditation, could help alleviate sexual problems for women with metabolic syndrome.

They worked with two groups of women between the ages of 30 and 60. One group (17 women) went to a yoga class twice a week for 12 weeks. The other group, called the control group, included 20 women who were wait-listed for yoga. They did not take yoga classes until after the 12-week study period.

Before and after the study period, each woman completed a questionnaire called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI). This is a scientific tool that assesses women’s sexual function and focuses on desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, pain during intercourse, and overall sexual satisfaction. The women’s symptoms for metabolic syndrome were also evaluated.

Each yoga class lasted for an hour. During that time, the women did breathing exercises and worked through a series of postures such as “cobra pose” and “cat stretch pose.”

When compared to the control group, the women who practiced yoga had improved FSFI scores for arousal and lubrication.

Why was this so? The researchers gave four possible explanations.

First, past research has shown that yoga can improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can block blood flow to the genitals. Good blood flow to this area helps women become aroused and lubricated so they’re ready for sex. It’s possible that the women in the yoga group had improvements in their symptoms, thus helping blood flow more easily.

Second, yoga may have lowered the stress and anxiety levels of the women who practiced it. In turn, this might have helped certain nerves work better, improving blood flow to the genitals.

Third, the women in the yoga group may have become more mindful. Mindfulness involves more focus on the here and now. This might have improved sexual function by making the women less distracted.

Finally, some of the yoga postures might have strengthened the women’s pelvic floor muscles, thus improving their sexual response cycle, including arousal and lubrication.

“Our findings suggest that yoga is a safe and effective treatment for sexual dysfunction and metabolic risk factors in women with [metabolic syndrome],” the authors wrote. They noted that larger studies with more participants and a longer follow-up period are needed to better understand the relationship between yoga and sexual function.

The study was published online in July in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.


The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Kim, Ha-Na, MD, MSc, et al.

“Effects of Yoga on Sexual Function in Women with Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial”

(Full-text. First published online: July 30, 2013)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

“What is Metabolic Syndrome?”

(November 3, 2011)