Sexuality can be a reflection of overall health and a strong libido and healthy sex life are manifestations of well-being. Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is the inability to achieve or sustain an erection during sex; it also includes painful erections and premature ejaculation. There are a few reasons why this might occur. Physiologically, after a man becomes aroused, the nervous system sends signals to increase blood flow to the penis, causing an erection. If there is a disruption in this process- whether with the arousal or the signals of the nervous system or the flow of blood- erectile dysfunction (e.d.) might result. This problem affects quality of life, may lower self-esteem and damage relationships and is often thought of as a taboo topic, but it must be addressed. Certain drugs, lifestyle factors, physical injury, stress and underlying disease might cause impotence, so a thorough examination by a medical doctor is necessary. Once major medical issues are ruled out, alternative therapies like acupuncture may be applied. It is not often associated with sexual health, but acupuncture and Chinese medicine can really help e.d., as well as reduce the stress the patient is feeling because of it.
From the perspective of Chinese medicine, the body must have sufficient qi, or energy, and it must be flowing freely among all of the organs and throughout the genital area for an erection to happen. The body’s kidney energy plays an integral role in libido and sexual health. Generally speaking, if the kidney energy is strong, sexual activity is unimpeded. However, a deficiency of kidney yang might develop– perhaps even from previous over-indulgence in sexual activity, as the man may have depleted his kidney essence. The patient in this case might experience impotence and lassitude, low back pain, cold limbs, pale complexion, and dizziness, for instance. Depression and excessive worry might also be contributing to the problem of e.d., affecting the liver and congesting the liver qi. In this case, coinciding symptoms might be a red tongue, distension in the chest, or a wiry pulse. Or, a downward movement of damp-heat, possibly from drinking too much alcohol or from an improper diet may have obstructed the flow of qi or energy, thus inhibiting a healthy erection. Here, accompanying symptoms would include soreness or heaviness in the legs, hot and scanty urine, rapid pulse and yellow tongue coating, and so on. All signs and symptoms (in addition to the more obvious) must be considered in order to diagnose and address the root cause of e.d.
Lifestyle issues must be examined first and foremost. For instance, if a person is sleep-deprived and over-worked, it is no wonder if their libido is low and they cannot perform sexually. If they drink excessively, eat junk food or feel unduly stressed and have unresolved emotional issues such as anxiety or depression, they will certainly experience a negative effect on their sex life. Modifying these bad habits and addressing emotional health issues are the places to start. If confidence is the main underlying issue, acupuncture can help by relaxing the patient to lower his stress level. It can affect the root causes by increasing or tonifying kidney yang through specific points along the kidney and related channels. If the liver is congested, needling points along this channel to soothe it and allow the qi to flow more freely in the body enhances the circulation of qi and blood. If the abovementioned damp-heat issue is at play, addressing lifestyle and applying points that dispel dampness and clear heat to unblock the lower pelvic area can help. Moxibustion and electroacupuncture may be applied in addition to regular needling techniques for patients with e.d. (n.b.: All of the points used for impotence treatment are distal points, and none are used directly on or near the genitals!)
Some cases respond remarkably quickly, especially cases of kidney yang deficiency. Recent research has confirmed the helpfulness of acupuncture on men with e.d. Herbs can also be added to supplement the needling and the formulas prescribed are always patient-specific, according to their diagnosis and syndrome. It is a good option for men struggling with this issue, especially if they are willing to address the lifestyle factors that impact sexual health.