5 Natural Ways to Boost Sex Drive

New research hails the testosterone patch, but lifestyle fixes may be safer.

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It strikes me as bizarre that pharmaceutical companies are still pursuing a drug to treat a "disorder"—low sexual desire in women—that appears manufactured, in my opinion, by the companies trying to treat it. In this week's New England Journal of Medicine, researchers triumphantly tout a testosterone patch, saying that it appears to increase the number of satisfying sexual encounters that women have.

Those on a 300-microgram dose of the patch, called Intrinsa, had gratifying sex an average of 2.1 times in four weeks, compared with 1.2 times for those on a lower dose and 0.7 time for those on a placebo. (Before you ask what constitutes seven tenths of a sex act, remember: These were averages.)

The trade-off for slightly better sex? Unwanted hair growth in manly places like the face and chest. And the possibility of increased breast cancer. Four cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in the study, which involved 800 postmenopausal women; none of the four were on the placebo patch. While the researchers say these "may be due to chance," they add that "the possibility of a causal relationship must be considered."

[See 9 Aphrodisiacs to Feed Your Valentine.]

But the bigger issue, as I see it, is whether women lacking libido truly need to be treated with drugs. Some experts worry that low sexual desire has been overmedicalized in women, as my colleague Lindsay Lyon previously reported. And a study in the November issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology finds that while 40 percent of women have sexual problems, only 12 percent are distressed about them.

Hmm. Doesn't sound like a sickness to me. Of course, while many women may not be severely upset about their less-than-par sex lives, I'm sure most would be happy to improve their situation. Some of the moves below can boost desire without any nasty side effects.

1. Exercise. Aerobic workouts (running, biking, swimming) not only improve blood flow to sex organs but can also boost your mood, pumping up "feel good" brain chemicals called endorphins. An increase in testosterone levels about one hour after working out can also leave you feeling sexier. Do avoid overstraining yourself, though, since extreme exercise actually lowers testosterone levels.

[See Try These Out-of-the-Box Fitness Classes.]

2. Relax. Too much stress increases the stress hormone cortisol, which causes testosterone to plummet. Find a way to tune out for 15 minutes a day, whether through meditation, yoga, chilling to music, or schmoozing with a friend.

[See Forget Yoga. Try One of These Quirky Ways to De-Stress.]

3. Add a little novelty. Recent research shows that partaking in new and challenging experiences with your partner can boost the brain chemical dopamine, which helps fuel sex drive. These don't even need to be in the bedroom. Enter a race together, on a tandem bike. Get a little lost on a wilderness hike—without a map. Host a game night with friends where each couple kicks in $30 and the winning pair takes all.

4. Consider supplements. Ginkgo biloba has been used to treat sexual dysfunction, although the Mayo Clinic website says the evidence that it works is speculative at best. Still, it's relatively safe (just don't take it if you're on a blood thinner), and the placebo effect may be enough to put you in the mood. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) could be useful, since it's critical for the manufacture of sex hormones in the adrenal glands. Choline, meanwhile, purportedly helps to enhance levels of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that sends sexual impulses from your brain to your sex organs.

[See Vitamins and Supplements: Do They Work?]

5. Inhale. Certain scents are known to be attractive to women, according to this article. Supposedly, we're most attracted to sweaty men and musky odors, though I'm guessing it's probably pretty individualized. To each her own.