By Gabrielle Kassel
What’s the short answer?
Yes. Yes, probiotics have the potential to improve a person’s sex life.
Whether or not they have the potential to improve your sex life, however, depends on your current gut health and your sex life.
When we talk about gut health, we’re typically talking about the composition of the billions of bacteria, archaea, and fungi inside the gut.
This is known as the microbiome, and it affects all sorts of things that contribute to your interest in sex and overall sexual satisfaction.
But for the optimal amount of serotonin to be produced, the gut has to be in tip-top shape. When the gut is in suboptimal health, your serotonin — and overall happiness — levels can dip.
Makes sense. Few of us are jonesing to do anything in the sack other than sleep when we’re sad.
Belly bacteria helps create B vitamins, which are essential for the production of ATP (science-talk for energy). Less B vitamins = less energy.
Plus, some of the bacteria communicate with other cells in charge of blood sugar regulation, says Anthony Thomas, PhD, nutrition researcher and director of scientific affairs with probiotic brand Jarrow Formulas.
If your gut bacteria gets out of whack, your blood sugar levels can crash more easily. This can lead to more — and longer lasting — energy dips.
So, that “too tired for sex” feeling? Well, it might be linked to your gut health in more ways than one.
Desire and arousal
Fun fact: Serotonin is found in the genitals. Seriously!
Some research suggests that when your serotonin levels dip, your physical response to sexual feelings dips, too.
“When our gut microbiome is unhealthy, it can lead to inflammation,” says Dr. William W. Li, a physician, scientist, and author of “Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.”
Sadly, inflammation is quite the c*ck-block.
Let’s face it: It’s pretty damn hard to be in the mood to bone when you can’t leave the bathroom.
And there are certain gut conditions that cause bathroom troubles to rear their ugly heads. These include:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- microscopic colitis
- ulcerative colitis
- celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
In addition to constipation and diarrhea, other common symptoms include:
Both the physical and emotional effects of these and other gastrointestinal (GI) conditions have the potential to affect your sex life.
The keyword here is potential.
If you’ve already received a diagnosis or suspect that your symptoms might be a sign of a GI condition, talk with a doctor or other healthcare provider about your concerns.
They can help you find the best management or treatment option for your individual symptoms or side effects.
By now you can probably tell that your microbiome is complicated. Well, so is your libido.
“Libido in general is very complicated and is impacted by many different things,” says Cabeca. “Hormones, lifestyle, and relational factors also have to be considered.”
So finding out if your libido fluctuations are related to your microbiome is similarly tricky. And no matter how well-intentioned, gut health mishaps can have a direct effect on your overall health.
Li recommends meeting a gastroenterologist, the medical specialist that focuses on the gut, if you’re experiencing any of the below symptoms:
- brain fog
- achy joints
- shifts in mood
- sleep disruption
- sugar cravings
- weight fluctuations
Note: That recommendation stands even if your libido isn’t funked up.
“They also may be able to check your microbiome for abnormalities by sending a stool sample for testing,” he adds.
Please don’t self-diagnose your gut symptoms or libido mishaps. Why? Well, because they’re both incredibly complex.
In these cases, for example, trying to course correct at home without talking to a healthcare provider may mean delaying access to helpful medications or other necessary treatment.
Many GI conditions are characterized by dysbiosis, which is medical speak for an imbalance of bacteria in your gut.
If your provider has diagnosed dysbiosis, Li says that probiotics — helpful yeasts and bacteria often delivered via certain foods and supplements — may help.
A word of caution: Not all probiotics are created equal.
As a general rule, probiotics that are stored in the refrigerator are higher quality than those stored on the shelf.
Cabeca adds that Lactobacillus strains are typically better than others.
Bacterial imbalance has been linked to increased inflammation, so it’s thought that probiotics may help alleviate symptoms associated with IBS, IBD, and other inflammatory conditions.
Probiotics may also be helpful for acute digestive conditions like gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
All that said, even if everything above sounds similar to your situation, you shouldn’t start or increase your probiotic intake without first talking with a doctor or other healthcare provider.
There are two good reasons for this:
- Oftentimes, probiotics aren’t enough to completely soothe your symptoms.
- And in some cases, starting a supplement or otherwise upping your probiotic intake can do more harm than good.
For example, “if someone has small intestinal bowel overgrowth, adding probiotics can worsen gas and other symptoms,” explains Cabeca.
If you’ve ever been probiotic shopping, you’ve likely stumbled across probiotics marketed for vaginas — they’re all the rage, after all.
According to Langdon, these probiotics typically contain higher levels of Lactobacillus. Some research suggests that Lactobacillus helps support a healthy vaginal pH, as well as keep other pathogens at bay.
Now, if you scroll back up to the previous section, you’ll notice that Lactobacillus is the strain of bacteria that’s best for both improving overall gut health and supporting vaginal health.
That’s why Li says, “it’s just a marketing ploy.” These probiotics are no different than any other probiotics on the market.
So… do probiotics marketed for your genitals actually work? If you have a condition that can be remedied by consuming more Lactobacillus, they may.
But don’t be tricked into thinking these probiotics are a one-stop solution for sexual dysfunction or the only option available.
Yep! In fact, there are quite a few things you should consider using in tandem — or even instead of, in some cases.
That’s because (again, for the people in the back!) gut and sexual health conditions aren’t quick-fix problems.
The meds and antibiotics you’re on or have been on can affect your gut microbiome, explains Thomas.
It’s also widely known that antidepressant, antipsychotic, anti-epileptic, blood pressure, and cholesterol lowering meds can all impact sexual functioning.
That’s why Thomas recommends making sure your doctor knows what meds you’re currently taking so they can help you troubleshoot if need be.
For gut conditions, most experts will recommend a diet shift, at least for a short period of time.
Cabeca, for example, recommends folks follow a “healthy elimination diet to better understand what foods lead to their gut unrest.” She also recommends incorporating gut-healing foods like bone broth and fermented veggies.
Regular exercise has been linked with higher serotonin levels.
Given serotonin’s relationship to both your gut and sex life, if you’re currently on the sedentary side of things, moving your body more may be helpful.
If you have a condition that can be helped with a probiotic, Cabeca says, “often, you can see a significant improvement of symptoms after 21 days.”
And that includes symptoms related to your sex life.
Thomas, however, notes that probiotics need to be taken regularly. “Benefits may ease if supplementation is discontinued,” he adds.
Probiotics aren’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for all folks experiencing gut conditions or sexual dysfunction. But for some, they can be an incredibly beneficial part of a holistic treatment plan.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.