A Story About Life Force Energy
There was a girl so wild and free… when life was one present moment moving fluidly and effortlessly into the next. She was supercharged with the energy for everything she set her mind to–thriving in the pursuit, the challenges, and the accomplishments of life. And she played, and fell in love, and shared an energy exchange of love that was electrifying and limitless. The fun and joy of life was infinite.
Then came a day when she was stunned by the sudden loss of steam, of juice, of energy, of passion, of joy. She was bone tired. She hurt. And she despaired. Her fire was out. Where did it all go? Where was the girl she was?
The crash led to self-discovery. Of foundational ways she had to care for herself. And gradually she climbed out of that energy hole. She learned to eat well (for her unique needs), to move better (not excessive, just enough), to guard her sleep (no more midnight oil for her), and to honor her needs (yes, she counted—she was essential). She focused more on what truly mattered and let go of the rest (a work in progress). She let go of the insane expectations she held for herself (to prove her worth).
And bit-by-bit, she learned, she practiced, and her energy recovered. And her joy of life came back. And her passion and play were reignited. And she and her love of over a quarter century discovered together that in the face of the challenges and complexities of life (think babies, work, and dreams) our energy is finite and we must choose where it goes. And like all energy, sexual energy is a decision we make about where we direct its flow. And this requires intention… and practice.
Yah, that girl is me. And I’m just like you. And we’re just like the thousands of clients I’ve had over my many years of medical practice who also bump up against the limits of their energy, who share with me their secrets about sex, sexuality, and libido. Who have suffered the added trauma of libido loss in the face of chronic illness, persistent fatigue, high stress, and the complexities of their lives. We’ve all felt the grief, frustration, and self-doubt as we’ve struggled to reclaim this important part of who we are.
Who are We?
- We’re the thirty-five year old woman with persistent fatigue and autoimmune disease who has lost all interest in sex and feels like a complete failure in her marriage.
- We’re the twenty-six year old woman on birth control pills to stop heavy menstrual bleeding who is depressed and has no interest in having sex with her boyfriend—who also feels like a failure… (so she fakes it.)
- We’re the thirty-three year old mom who recently gave birth, is breast-feeding, and working hard to be the very best mom she can be.
- We’re the fifty-three year old going through menopause, who has hot flashes, severe vaginal dryness, who desperately wants to revitalize her sex life, but it hurts so dang much.
- We’re the forty-five year old with two young kids, working full-time, managing the world, putting everyone’s needs before her own, whose energy tank is empty, and (surprise!) has nothing left for sex (but she feels like it’s her fault… and responsibility).
- We’re the forty year old who is dissatisfied with a ten-year, emotionally-starved marriage, who cannot get her husband to go to counseling, who feels no attraction to her husband but blames herself for the problem.
- We’re the sixty-year old who is pissed as hell after her husband’s affair.
- We’re the normal, healthy, high-energy, high-functioning fifty-something year old couple who simply got out of the habit during the years they shifted their focus to raising kids and nurturing careers.
Libido is Part of the Energy of Life
Libido loss effects ALL of us at some point in our lives, for many different reasons. And each and every one of us knows what’s at stake—our joy of life, our passion, our connection, our presence: our ENERGY. Energy is at the heart of what’s gone wrong when our libido is low. Our bodies—all wise—know what our minds may not understand. When we’re tired and depleted, sex comes dead last.
While our libido stories have many differences, two common denominators describe how energy flows in our lives:
- We’ve lost intrinsic vital energy (no fuel left in the tank).
- We’re not intentionally directing energy into this part of our lives.
Myths About Libido Loss that Add to Our Pain
Loss of libido brings with it unnecessary shame and self-judgment that adds to our suffering. Healing this important part of our lives means letting go of our many misconceptions:
- It’s a normal part of the aging process.
- It’s our fault… If we just tried hard enough…
- We should have a high libido all the time.
- It is our responsibility as women (and men) to meet our partner’s expectations for sex.
- It’s a character flaw—it’s something wrong with us.
- Loss of libido equals loss of love for our partner.
- We’re less of a woman or man without a healthy libido.
- Libido is what makes us beautiful and sexy.
Common Libido Smashers:
Loss of Intrinsic Vital Energy
Anything that challenges the energy resilience of our bodies has the potential to make us feel tired and experience loss of our usual interest in sex.
Keep in mind that the normal hubbub of life can cause declines in libido that are temporary and recover with adequate rest and restoration.
- Acute or persistent fatigue from all causes.
- Chronic inflammation—infections, allergies, autoimmune disorders, blood sugar regulation problems, obesity, for example.
- Hormonal changes and imbalances—pregnancy, post-pregnancy, menstrual cycle hormone variations, peri- and post-menopausal hormone changes.
- Surgery: especially pelvic and abdominal surgeries. Even tubal ligation can lead to blood flow and hormonal changes that effect libido.
- Drugs: birth control pills, blood pressure medications, pain medications, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications, anti-histamines, and many others.
- Cancer therapy: chemotherapy, radiation, surgery.
- All chronic illness.
- Poor sleep.
- Food irritants.
- Nutrient deficiencies.
- Persistently high stress.
- High states of anxiety.
- Acute or persistent grief or trauma.
- Severe deconditioning.
- Exposure to toxins.
Issues Relating to How we Direct Energy into Our Relationships (With Ourselves and Our Partners)
- Emotional distance or dysfunctional communication with partner.
- Unequal control or perceived lack of fairness with partner.
- Abuse within a relationship.
- Lack of mutual respect or love with partner.
- Embarrassment about sexuality.
- Belief that sexuality is dangerous or degrading.
- Lack of knowledge about normal, healthy sexuality.
- Low self-esteem.
- Poor body image.
We Recover Libido Through Energy Restoration
I like to refer to my favorite roadmap for Energy Recovery: The Nine Domains of Healing. These domains represents foundational aspects of our lives that, when out of balance or depleted, drain our energy reserves and block optimal flow of energy in our lives. By supporting those domains that most need our attention (we all have them) we create energy resilience and recover Energy–the foundation of a healthy libido.
- Nourish: Eat for vitality.
- Get rid of food irritants: all sugars, grains, dairy, and processed foods.
- Eliminate toxins that come with food: eat as much organic as possible and avoid GMO.
- Eat a nutrient-packed diet with attention to healthy sources of fat, protein, and plants (see the Liftoff Foundational Intensive Nutrition Food Plan).
- Restore: Sleep deeply.
- Sleep long enough, deeply, and with the circadian rhythm of light and dark (see my review of healthy sleep).
- Move: Move, balance and carry ourselves well.
- Move daily, just enough, not too much.
- Sit less, stand more.
- Challenge balance, be mindful of posture.
- Balance: Create physiological balance and stress resilience.
- Reduce excesses of stress.
- Create a positive stress mindset (stress is good–it’s how we manage the challenges of life).
- Build equanimity through practices like mindfulness and meditation.
- Let Go: Avoid toxins, irritants, and negative energy.
- Avoid environmental toxins and irritants.
- Reduce clutter
- Avoid negative people and situations.
- Connect: Practice love and connection.
- Honor yourself and your needs… always.
- Love heals all.
- Discover: Realize the infinite potential of our minds.
- We release our stories about self-judgment.
- We learn to flow with the uncertainty and changes of life.
- We harness the power of the mind to support the changes we desire.
- Flow: Trust our emotional wisdom.
- This domain represents the wild, and perhaps, most challenging parts of ourselves… but our emotions never lie.
- What does our heart tell us about our relationships?
- Rise: Nourish meaning, purpose, grace, and awe in our lives.
- How are we tending to our highest aspirations?
- Awe is recognizing the beauty all around us.
Create a Personalized Libido/Energy Recovery Plan
My top considerations for building a personalized roadmap for libido recovery:
- Acknowledge that libido is energy–not our character, identity, or responsibility.
- Release all self-judgment–it’s NOT our fault.
- Support energy resilience by working with the Nine Domains of Healing—choose those that are most relevant to your current state of health and wellbeing.
- Set the intention to reawaken this perhaps dormant part of your life—this re-directs energy flow where you want it.
- If you are dealing with a chronic illness, persistent symptoms, or fatigue that just won’t lift, work with a trusted healthcare provider. I recommend you find someone trained in Functional Medicine. They can help you with sustainable, root cause level solutions to Energy Recovery.
- Work to eliminate all drugs, foods, irritants, and lifestyle habits that may be part of the problem.
- If low libido is a source of concern for you and your partner, talk openly and enlist one another’s support to find solutions. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable.
- Been married or partnered for a while–perhaps focusing energy on raising kids or building careers? We can’t do it all, and we all get into ruts. Give your sex life a jumpstart by making your time together more of a priority.
- I’m not a sex specialist, but I think the most important sex organ is the brain and the very best aphrodisiac is connection and communication. In other words, spend quality time together, listen to one another, and do the damned dishes once in a while (yes, household chores are great antidotes to waning enthusiasm for sex).
for easy printing and sharing!
Karyn Shanks, MD. Fatigue and Overwhelm: Rescue Your Adrenals. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Vital Energy: Rock it With Five Simple Steps. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Four Simple Steps to Jumpstart Change. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality Through Self-Care. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Create Vital Energy Through the Power of Sleep: Part One. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Create Vital Energy Through the Power of Sleep: Part Two. 2017.
Karyn Shanks, MD. Create Vital Energy: From Mitochondria to Sex. 2016.
Karyn Shanks, MD. The Liftoff Foundational Intensive Nutrition Food Plan. 2016.
KARYN SHANKS MD
Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-five-year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.