Keep the Light on for Better Sex

Sexual Satisfaction

Story at-a-glance -

  • Exposure to light therapy may increase the pituitary gland’s luteinizing hormone (LH), which may elevate testosterone levels in men
  • When your skin is exposed to sunlight, nitric oxide, a natural blood pressure lowering agent, is released, which lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well
  • Current questionable therapies for low libido include antidepressants, testosterone injections and other medications, but the beauty of light therapy is that, besides its happy consequences, there are fewer side effects

By Dr. Mercola

Exposure to bright light increases testosterone levels and enhances sexual satisfaction in men, including those with low testosterone, a recent European study revealed.

It started with a pilot study, presented at a recent European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) conference in Vienna, using as a basic premise that around one-quarter of the men on the planet say they have problems in this regard, especially those who've passed their 40th birthday.

The randomized, placebo-controlled trial was partially inspired by scientists' previous observation that sexual interest changes according to seasons. They wondered if different levels of ambient light might affect sexual desire.

How Sexual Satisfaction Levels Can Be Tweaked

The concept sparked a new study on how bright light might impact the sexual and physiological response of men with low sex drives. Using a light box similar to those used to reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD syndrome) in early morning hours for a period of two weeks increased subjects' testosterone levels.

The test subjects were 38 men who had visited the university's urology department and been diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder or sexual arousal disorder. A team of researchers divided them into two groups.

One group of participants was subjected to light from a specially adapted light box for half an hour every morning for two weeks. Members of the "control" group had a similar situation, only their light boxes emitted significantly less light.

The participants in the first group later reported greater levels of sexual satisfaction after having been subjected to the light therapy.

Study leader Dr. Andrea Fagiolini, professor at the Department of Mental Health at Italy's University of Siena, said she wasn't surprised by the study conclusion, which was reported in an ENCP news release.

"As a matter of fact, we already knew that sexual function increases during spring and summer and hypothesized that this might well have to do with the exposure to light."1

Why Ambient Light Matters

The Italian study determined a greater level of sexual satisfaction in the first group of test subjects. After the light therapy, the collective score was 6.3, while the control group only averaged 2.7. Fagiolini said the numbers constituted an increase three times higher on the scale the researchers used.

Further, not only did the first group of participants' sexual satisfaction increase, so did their testosterone levels, with a similar reflection of those in the second group.

"The average testosterone levels in the control group showed no significant change over the course of the treatment — it was around 2.3 ng/ml at both the beginning and the end of the experiment.

However, the group given active treatment showed an increase from around 2.1 ng/ml to 3.6 ng/ml after two weeks."

Fagiolini noted that a previous study had linked exposure to light therapy to an increase in a pituitary hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH), which can elevate testosterone levels in men.

It's the fact that male testosterone levels increased that made the difference in their sexual satisfaction, Fagiolini explained:

"In the Northern hemisphere, the body's testosterone production naturally declines from November through April, and then rises steadily through the spring and summer with a peak in October.

You see the effect of this in reproductive rates, with the month of June showing the highest rate of conception. The use of the light box really mimics what nature does."

How it works may be manifold, she added. First, light therapy inhibits the function of the pineal gland (which produces the hormone melatonin and, subsequently, influences your circadian rhythms and sleep), so it may allow the production of more testosterone.

The bottom line for amorous lighting is that ambient light, such as what you get at both sunset and dawn, is the very best light for setting the mood.

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Light Therapy

For individuals wondering if light therapy might work for them, Fagiolini says the science isn't yet at a point where it can be recommended as a clinical treatment because there may be other factors to consider.

Patients may have certain eye conditions or be on antidepressants, antibiotics or other medications that might affect their light sensitivity.

Fagiolini added that light box therapy may also help treat women with low sexual desire. In particular, she cited the importance of an increase in LH as a result of bright light exposure, as low LH has been named as a contributor to low libido in women.

"LH may also trigger ovulation in women, which is also controlled by luteinizing hormone and which may be of interest for the fertility studies," she added.

Scientists say there are a number of reasons for lack of sexual desire and that underlying causes need to be taken into consideration before any kind of therapy approach is determined.

Currently, questionable remedies include antidepressants and other medications, as well as testosterone injections. But the beauty of light therapy for enhanced sex is that, besides its happy consequences, it would have fewer side effects than drug treatments.

How Sunshine on Your Shoulders Makes You Sexy

Interestingly, light therapy is one of the most effective therapies for depression, as well as for SAD syndrome brought on by an absence of light, especially in areas of the world where sunlight is at a premium.

Sunshine could almost be considered an aphrodisiac simply because it's able to increase male testosterone levels. The trigger, however, is vitamin D, which is produced via sunlight on your skin.

A study based at Austria's Medical University of Graz determined that men with high levels of vitamin D in their blood possess significantly higher testosterone levels than men who have less vitamin D. 2

Beginning in October, both begin to decrease, reaching their lowest point in March. According to Ad Brand, from the Sunlight Research Forum in Holland:

"Men who ensure that their body is at least sufficiently supplied with vitamin D are doing good for their testosterone levels and their libido."3

Sunlight Provides More Than Higher Testosterone Levels

Scientists used to think the only reason sunlight was healthy was because of the vitamin D it provides. Now they know there's a lot more. Your skin contains large amounts of nitrite and nitrate, and studies suggest that sunlight prompts the conversion of nitrate to nitrite and nitric oxide (NO).

Nitric oxide enhances blood flow by helping to regulate your blood pressure. It signals the cells of your blood vessels to relax so your blood can flow more freely, which helps your arteries stay plaque free.

As your blood flows freely, it enhances nearly every other physiological function. Without nitric oxide, your coronary artery disease risk increases.

A recent study from the University of Edinburgh asserts that the benefits of sunlight extend far beyond testosterone levels as well. In fact, when sunlight kisses your skin, nitric oxide, a natural blood pressure lowering agent, is released.

Simultaneously, your risk of heart disease and stroke may also decrease, which may even prolong your life. According to BBC Scotland:

"Heart disease and stroke linked to high blood pressure are estimated to lead to about 80 times more deaths than those from skin cancer in the U.K.4

In the study, 24 volunteers underwent UV exposure and heat from heat lamps in two sessions, each lasting 20 minutes. The first session entailed both the UV light as well as the heat; the second blocked the UV rays so that only the heat reached their skin.

Scientists concluded after the two sessions that blood pressure dropped "significantly" for an hour after the UV exposure but not after the heat-only sessions. They concluded that UV rays are what provide health benefits. Interestingly, the participants' vitamin D levels didn't change during either session. Senior university lecturer Dr. Richard Weller explained:

"We suspect that the benefits to heart health of sunlight will outweigh the risk of skin cancer. The work we have done provides a mechanism that might account for this, and also explains why dietary vitamin D supplements alone will not be able to compensate for lack of sunlight.

We now plan to look at the relative risks of heart disease and skin cancer in people who have received different amounts of sun exposure. If this confirms that sunlight reduces the death rate from all causes, we will need to reconsider our advice on sun exposure."5

Some Reasons for Lack of Sexual Desire

You may be someone who sits inside an office day after day, with fluorescent lighting overhead starving your body of the unfiltered ultraviolet light it needs to produce vitamin D. This lack can not only affect your mood, it can affect your sexual desire. Just 10 minutes a day of sunlight on your skin will make a world of difference in the way you feel and think. Stress is one of the greatest dampeners of your sex life. On the other hand, sex can relieve stress. Psychology Today notes:

"The benefits include release of endorphins and other hormones that elevate mood, and exercise, which itself is an effective stress reliever … For millions of men, erectile dysfunction is nothing more than a stress response that triggers a classic mind-body phenomenon.

In many cases, simply recognizing stress as a contributing factor or the cause of sexual problems is enough to bring about recovery. Ignoring the problem and not taking steps to eliminate it can lead to anger, emotional disorders, depression, physical illness and permanent loss of intimacy."6

Lack of sleep is another reason both men and women find they just don't have the energy or desire for sex. Your sleep may be interrupted or your circadian rhythm might be thrown out of whack due to work schedules or travel. But re-regulating your sleep patterns can make all the difference in the way you feel and function.