by Dr. Noah Rubinstein, DACM, L.Ac

Treating the Sexual Side Effects of Medication with Chinese medicine

Sexual desire and function are common concerns for our patients at the YinOva Center. In our experience, the causes of sexual dysfunction for both men and women can be caused by biological factors (age, constitution, etc.) or can be the result of prescription medication use. Thankfully, the latter can be very treatable.

Whether prescribed by a doctor, or over-the-counter, a number of “classes” of medications are known to disrupt sexual desire and performance. Chinese medicine can be an effective way to reduce or even eliminate the need for the drugs that may be reducing a patient’s quality of life or ability to conceive.

Unexpected effects of medications are not always related to the strength of the medication, but more likely to their “mechanism of action”.

Unlike the “therapeutic action” (what the medication is designed to treat), the “mechanism of action” is how the medication works. Sometimes the mechanisms are not understood thoroughly which is the reason for side effects—medication influencing other systems in the body. For example, there is clear evidence that Finasteride, the active ingredient in Propecia (a medication used for hair loss), and Proscar (used to treat prostate enlargement) has an adverse effect on erectile function and libido. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are not compelled to determine the reason for these side effects as long as the intended therapeutic action is working.

Other medications that are known to cause sexual dysfunction are:

  • Antidepressants
  • High cholesterol prescriptions
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Hair loss drugs
  • Antihistamines
  • Opiates

As you might expect, the risk of adverse side effects from medication use increases when more than one are taken together.

Management of any medication-derived side effects often requires the adjustment of dosage and administration. This should be done at the guidance of your physician and never on your own.

Chinese medicine, which includes acupuncture, herbs, and any other adjunctive therapies is based on an understanding of the body that is in many ways different from that of Western medicine. Its unique view of the physiology and the mechanics of the human body makes it a natural and safe way to reduce unwanted reactions or side effects.

In Chinese medicine, all organs have a role in the fulfillment of sexual expression.

The Liver plays a fundamental role of assuring the harmonious and responsive flow of Qi throughout the body and has a strong influence on genital function.

The Heart is important not only for its mechanical role, but also for the emotions that are part of sexual experience.

The Kidneys contain Jing (the very expression of our most essential energy) and they are the wellspring of sexual vitality.

Malfunction or injury to these or any of your organs can lead to low libido, erectile dysfunction, pain with sex, and difficulty having an orgasm.

Since the mechanism of action of medications is often a mystery, effects on the organs can be hard to diagnose—especially when multiple medications are being taken.

A practitioner of Chinese medicine can spot these deficiencies through the use of unique diagnostic protocols (checking the tongue, monitoring the pulse) and a specialized consultation. The acquired knowledge is then used to create an individualized treatment plan that can restore function to depleted organs.

If you are curious and would like to find out more about the sexual side effects of medications or how acupuncture can be used to treat it, then you can watch me help a patient who was suffering from these side effects on MTV’s True Life: I Can’t Have an Orgasm.