When it comes to your sex life, there are a lot of things that matter: your body, your identity, and your personal relationships. And experts agree that "sexual health" isn’t just your physical health. It also involves feeling satisfied, safe, and fulfilled, no matter what sexual activities you enjoy.
Many women have challenges with sexual health. Common problems include:
If these issues sound familiar, you’re not alone. Research shows that 40% of women worldwide have challenges with sex at some point. To fix these problems, women frequently try natural supplements, sexual wellness devices, and home remedies.
Before we jump into the options, here are a few sexual health definitions to keep in mind:
A note about the language in this guide: Although the wording here is centered on cisgender women with vaginas, we want to emphasize that women’s bodies (and genitals) come in all shapes and sizes. All readers are welcome here.
With all this in mind, here’s an evidence-based guide to over-the-counter supplements, sexual wellness devices, and lifestyle choices that can support a healthy sex life - no matter what that means for you.
Yes. There are many products on the market that claim to support sexual health, and options continue to grow. Over-the-counter supplements are the first choice of many women who want to make a change in their sex life, which begs the question: Do they work?
Let's examine common ingredients that are found in sexual health products for libido, wetness, and general sexual health for women. For each, we'll cover what the ingredient is, whether or not it works, and other important information from healthcare professionals and researchers.
At a high level, we'll cover the following:
The human vagina is colonized by a variety of microbes. Lactobacilli are the most common, and they are mainly in healthy women. It improves adherence of vaginal epithelia cells, which promotes a healthier overall mucosa. It is also protective against several pathogens that cause bacterial and yeast infections.
Lactobacilli comes in many species. A few that are commonly found in a healthy vagina are Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus crispatus, and Lactobacillus gasseri.
Yes. Studies have shown that probiotic blends containing different species of Lactobacilli can inhibit growth of harmful vaginal pathogens, helping prevent conditions like bacterial vaginosis (BV) and aerobic vaginitis (AV).
A healthy vaginal bacterial environment is a key piece to vaginal wetness, sex drive, and other factors of your sexual health.
Overall, studies demonstrate that the Lactobacilli combinations can be an effective treatment against vaginal E. coli, and probiotic strains can ultimately be helpful to treat bacterial vaginal infections.
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are a form of carbohydrate. The term saccharide is another word for sugar, and an oligosaccharide is a molecule made up of a small group of these sugars.
FOS are notable because research shows they can be metabolized by vaginal bacteria strains that are commonly found in healthy vaginas, such as strains of Lactobaccilis, while unhealthy bacterial strains that cause infections cannot metabolize it.
It looks promising as a vaginal health supplement. While more research is needed, one study found that oligosaccharides promote the growth of the three beneficial strains of Lactobacillus, while they do not promote the growth of pathogenic microorganisms often encountered in vaginal infections such as Candida albicans, Escherichia coli and Gardnerella vaginalis.
This study also found that pathogenic microorganisms are unable to metabolize oligosaccharides, while Lactobacilli strains that are beneficial for vaginal health can metabolize oligosaccharides. Thus, lactobacilli and oligosaccharides are good candidates for incorporation in a formula to prevent vaginal infections.
Since FOS feed bacteria, there is also the chance that they can feed unfriendly bacteria in the gut. While some studies suggest that various harmful strains of bacteria do not feed on FOS, more research is needed.
Some people may be more sensitive to side effects from FOS. Severe allergic reactions may cause anaphylactic shock, which is a potentially fatal response. If you have signs of allergic reaction, then you should contact a healthcare professional immediately.
Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of fat soluble antioxidants that are needed by your body to combat the harmful effects of free radicals, support your body's immune system, and it is involved in blood clotting processes.
Yes. Studies show that Vitamin E helps protect against and reverse vaginal atrophy and dryness. This is because Vitamin E has a protective effect on polyunsaturated cell membrane phospholipids.
Studies also suggest that it helps temper hot flashes caused by menopause.
Research has not found any adverse effects from consuming vitamin E in food. The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E depends on your age and if you are pregnant and/or lactating:
|Age||Baseline Recommended Daily Allowance||Pregnancy||Lactation|
|1-3 years||6 mg|
|4-8 years||7 mg|
|9-13 years||11 mg|
|14+ years||15 mg||15 mg||19 mg|
That being said, high doses of alpha-tocopherol supplements can cause hemorrhage and interrupt blood coagulation in animals, and in vitro data suggest that high doses inhibit platelet aggregation. Two clinical trials have found an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in participants taking alpha-tocopherol; one trial included Finnish male smokers who consumed 50 mg/day for an average of 6 years and the other trial involved a large group of male physicians in the United States who consumed 400 IU (180 mg) of synthetic vitamin E every other day for 8 years.
The following is the recommended upper limit for Vitamin E intake:
|Age||Tolerable Upper Intake Level||Pregnancy||Lactation|
|1-3 years||200 mg|
|4-8 years||300 mg|
|9-13 years||600 mg|
|14-18 years||800 mg||800 mg||800 mg|
|19+ years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
Vitamin D (also referred to as "calciferol") is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to other foods, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced by your body when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.
It looks promising as a sexual health supplement for women. Studies show that Vitamin D improves reported sexual function scores in women. It has also been shown to increase female sexual desire, increase orgasm intensity, sexual satisfaction.
About 50% to 90% of vitamin D is absorbed through the skin via sunlight while the rest comes from the diet. Twenty minutes of sunshine daily with over 40% of skin exposed is required to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
Depending on where you live, the above guidance may not be enough to prevent vitamin D deficiency. Except during the summer months, the skin makes little to no vitamin D from the sun at latitudes above 37 degrees north (in the United States, the shaded region on the map below) or below 37 degrees south of the equator. Studies show that people who live in these areas are at a greater risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Chasteberry is a Mediterranean plant that has traditionally been used for skin conditions and reproductive health. It’s also called vitex, chaste tree, or monk’s pepper. There’s some evidence that chasteberry can have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. It may also affect hormone production and activity, including that of progesterone and estrogen — two hormones that are important for your sexual health.
Maybe. In at least one study, chasteberry improved vaginal tone and lubrication — which could make it especially helpful for menopause-related pain and discomfort during sex. There’s also evidence that chasteberry can help specifically with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), so it could be useful for women who have PMS-related sexual problems.
Overall, chasteberry seems to be safe, but some people do have mild side effects like an upset stomach, a headache, and itching. It’s also not clear whether it’s safe for people with hormone-sensitive conditions (like certain cancers). Be aware that chasteberry can interact with several medications, like birth control pills and antipsychotics.
L-arginine is an amino acid. Amino acids are building blocks that your body uses to make proteins. Your body is usually able to make all the L-arginine it needs, but you can also get it by eating:
L-arginine provides the raw material your body needs to make nitric oxide, a molecule that opens your blood vessels. Nitric oxide makes it easier for blood to flow to your genitals. Good blood flow is important for sexual arousal and orgasm, and it can help your vagina stay nourished and healthy.
Maybe. There is some evidence that L-arginine can improve libido, decrease vaginal dryness, and increase clitoral sensation. But L-arginine has mostly been studied as a combination supplement that has more than one ingredient (like ArginMax). Because of this, it’s not clear whether the positive effects seen in research studies are because of L-arginine on its own, or whether L-arginine works only when combined with other ingredients.
L-arginine is potentially safe for many people, and it doesn’t have a lot of side effects. Be aware: L-arginine may make herpes worse, and can interact with many medications. And for some people, when taken as a supplement, it can cause:
If you’re interested in increasing your L-arginine intake, consider adding L-arginine-rich foods to your diet. Foods that are especially rich in L-arginine include:
Ginseng is a medicinal plant traditionally used to reduce stress, improve energy levels, and increase blood circulation. Just like L-arginine, ginseng may encourage blood flow to your genitals, which might improve arousal, orgasm, and vaginal health.
Yes — for menopausal women. A 2016 meta-analysis showed that Korean red ginseng (KRG) improved sexual arousal in this group. In another study from 2019, menopausal women taking ginseng had not only better sexual function, but also an improvement in menopause symptoms and a better quality of life.
In a 2015 study of premenopausal women, KRG did improve sexual function — but not any more than did placebo (sham) treatment. More research is needed to understand whether ginseng is helpful for premenopausal women.
There are many different types of ginseng. Sexual-health studies often focus on Korean red ginseng, which is a preparation of Asian ginseng. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Asian ginseng is generally safe for most people for short-term use (up to 6 months), but its long-term safety is not clear.
Probably not. There is no evidence that ginkgo works for any health condition, including sexual problems. Despite its reputation of being good for your sex life, most research studies have found that it works no better than placebo (sham) treatment does. In one small study, sex therapy combined with ginkgo did increase sexual desire — but no more than did sex therapy on its own.
Ginkgo biloba is likely safe for most people and has relatively mild side effects.
Maca is an edible South American plant. It is traditionally used for infertility, to boost libido, and to balance hormone levels. Researchers don’t know exactly how it works. It may be an “adaptogen” (an herb that helps your body respond to stress) and could have mild estrogen-like effects in the body.
Maca can be prepared as a food: baked, roasted, or used as a cooking ingredient. It is available as a powder that can be mixed into smoothies or recipes. In some cultures, it is prepared as a fermented drink.
Maybe. Unfortunately, so far most of the published research on maca has been on its effects in men. Only a few studies have been done on maca and women’s sexual health. So far, there is some evidence that maca might be helpful for sexual function during menopause — even though the benefits seem to be small. There’s also evidence that maca may be helpful for the sexual side effects caused by antidepressant medications.
Maca seems to be safe when eaten as a food (up to 3 grams daily). It may be slightly riskier if taken in larger quantities as a pill. Note that raw maca should be cooked before consuming. It’s wise to avoid taking maca at night because it can disrupt sleep.
Puncturevine is a Mediterranean plant that has historically been used to improve sexual function in men. It may work by increasing blood levels of testosterone — a hormone that is related to sexual desire (libido), arousal, and orgasm in both men and women.
It’s not clear. Overall, the evidence is just too limited to say for sure whether puncturevine helps support sexual wellness in women — especially since there haven’t been many well-designed trials yet. In one small study of 60 women, taking puncturevine for a month improved:
However, in several other studies, it didn’t work better than placebo did.
Red clover is a plant that is rich in phytoestrogens — plant chemicals that may act like estrogen in your body. Estrogen is a hormone that has many jobs, including keeping your vaginal tissues healthy. It also plays a role in libido and sexual arousal.
Yes. There’s evidence that red clover can support vaginal health in menopausal women and reduce vaginal dryness and pain during sex. In a small study of women over age 40, taking red clover helped with vaginal dryness, low libido, and pain during sex.
It’s possible that red clover can help with hot flashes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis; however, the evidence to support these claims hasn’t been consistent. According to the NIH, people have taken red clover for up to 3 years in research studies without any safety concerns.
There are many other supplements that claim to help your sex life. But the truth is that most have little to no evidence to support them. Some can even be harmful or toxic. A 2015 literature review of about 50 scientific articles suggests products to avoid, including:
It depends. Many supplements are safe to use, with minimal side effects. But just because a treatment is “natural” doesn’t mean it is risk-free. In fact, many over-the-counter treatments can have powerful effects in your body — and not always in the way you intend.
If you decide to try an herb or supplement for sexual wellness, you should talk to your healthcare provider first. This is especially important if you have other health conditions, take prescription medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
No. Natural products and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so their contents (and safety) aren’t guaranteed. Many commercial products have multiple ingredients, which can make it hard to know exactly what you are taking - or how much.
If you do decide to try an herbal preparation or other supplement, consider using a product that sends its supplements for 3rd-party testing and makes the results available to the public. Your healthcare provider may be able to recommend products on the basis of independent testing or their patients’ experiences.
Arousal oils and lotions are products that are applied to your genitals before or during sex. These products usually contain botanical extracts (including CBD) that may increase blood flow, heighten sensitivity, and make it easier to orgasm.
Keep in mind that arousal oils are not the same as commercial lubricants (lube). Lubricants mimic the natural “wetness” that your body creates when you’re aroused. Unlike water-based lubricants, oil-based arousal products cannot be used with latex condoms or silicone toys.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear how well these products work. In one study in 2010, women using Zestra did report more sexual arousal and satisfaction than did women who used a placebo. But overall, there hasn’t been a lot of research in this area. And just like oral supplements, arousal oils and lotions are not regulated by the FDA — which means there could be unclear risks involved in using these products (especially those with CBD).
Sexual wellness devices are tools that can help with:
Some wellness devices can also help with muscle problems that could be making sex (especially penetration) difficult or painful for you.
Sexual wellness devices may be able to:
Some people enjoy using these devices with a partner; others prefer to use them alone. And even though they are available without a prescription, some sexual wellness devices (like vaginal dilators or lasers) are generally used under the guidance of a trained health professional.
We have a couple notes on safety. When using sexual wellness devices, it’s important to keep them clean — especially if you are sharing them with a partner. You should also steer clear of any product that is labeled “for novelty only” (or something similar) or that contains phthalates or other hazardous chemicals.
Look for products that are either FDA-approved or made with body-safe material like:
Vaginal dilators are tube-shaped medical devices that are inserted into your vagina. They come in a range of sizes and are often used two or three times per week. Many people start with a small dilator and gradually work up to larger sizes over time.
Vaginal dilators are available without a prescription, but they should be used under the professional guidance for best results — especially because they can be hard to use correctly. They are often paired with counseling or mindfulness exercises.
Using dilators can:
Vaginal dilatation can help in many situations:
Vibrators are a type of sex toy used to stimulate your genitals and other parts of your body. Research has shown that using a vibrator can have a positive impact on sexual function — with rarely any downside.
There’s evidence that using a vibrator can have many benefits, including:
Vibrators come in all shapes and sizes. They can be worn on the fingertips, held in your hand, or strapped to your body. There are even vibrators that are “hands-free,” as well as vibrators that are designed to be used during vaginal penetration.
OH! Boost is a supplement that increases vaginal wetness and sex drive through a doctor-formulated combination of high-quality active ingredients.
OH! Boost is for women that have:
It is reported to have the following benefits:
OH! Boost contains the following scientifically-backed ingredients:
According to the NIH, about 25% of women have problems with their pelvic floor muscles — especially muscle weakness. Kegel exercises can strengthen and tone your pelvic floor muscles and may actually be more effective than any other type of exercise for this purpose.
Kegel exercises can improve sexual function by:
Kegel exercises can be done without any equipment, but there are several types of device that can help you with your workout. These devices can refine your technique, encourage you to meet your goals, and — in some cases — even design and track a personal Kegel exercise program for you.
Different kinds of Kegel exercise device are listed below. No matter which type you choose, make sure to look for a Kegel exerciser that’s made with body-safe materials. In particular, steer clear of jade eggs: There is no evidence that these were used historically for sexual wellness. Jade eggs also have porous, hard-to-clean surfaces that could put you at risk for a serious infection.
These are smooth weights that are placed inside your vagina. You squeeze your pelvic muscles to “lift” the weight, which may tone your pelvic floor muscles. Some weights come in sets of increasing heaviness, or they might have strings or handles that you can pull to increase resistance.
According to research, you will get the same results from doing Kegels with or without vaginal weights. But in a large review of over 1,800 women, doing Kegels with vaginal weights was better than no treatment at all - so if weights encourage you to stay on track with your Kegels, they could be worth considering.
These devices use small electrical currents to automatically contract your pelvic floor muscles. This can be a great option for people who have a hard time squeezing their pelvic floor muscles on their own.
While many of these devices are FDA-approved for treating incontinence, they are not officially approved for sexual function. But if you have problems with both urine leaks and sexual function, this could be an especially good option for you.
Talk to your healthcare provider about whether an electrostimulating device is the right fit. Some devices may require a prescription and could even be eligible for insurance coverage.
There are also many “smart” exercises that use technology to help you meet your Kegel goals. Like vaginal weights, smart exercisers are put inside your vagina — but they come with built-in training programs, either within the device itself or that you can access through a phone or tablet app.
Most of these exercisers use new technology, so there’s not a lot of research yet on how well they work. But in one small study, women who used the Vibrance device for 16 weeks had a significant improvement in pelvic muscle strength. And in the U.K., the National Health Service not only recommends doing pelvic floor exercises to have better sex, but is even giving some women a free Elvie Trainer.
Just like with any exercise program, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider before starting Kegels — especially if you’re having pain. In some cases (like if you have vaginismus), Kegels can actually make your symptoms worse. Getting an evaluation from an OB-GYN or physical therapist can help you feel confident that Kegels are the right treatment for your symptoms.
Laser light therapy uses a special type of concentrated light in the vagina. Research is still needed, but there's some evidence that laser therapy may help with sexual wellness, especially in menopausal women.
It’s possible to purchase a laser therapy device without a prescription, but these should be used only under the guidance of a trained healthcare professional. In fact, the FDA has issued a warning about laser therapy, as it can cause major complications — like burns, scarring, and chronic pain. If you’re considering vaginal laser therapy, make sure to work with a licensed healthcare professional to understand the risks and benefits of this type of treatment before you proceed.
In addition to supplements and sexual wellness devices, behavior changes can have a big impact on your sexual health. Lifestyle choices can also have a positive effect on your overall health and quality of life — which can give your sex life an additional boost.
Here are some ideas to consider:
If you’re not getting the results you want, getting professional help may be worthwhile. Some people enjoy online sex-education classes like OMGyes or Bodysex. In these classes, experts teach you about your body and help you explore new techniques and your sexuality.
Another option is working with a sexual-health professional - either in person or through telehealth. These licensed professionals have specific training in human sexuality. Some use talk therapy; others use hands-on treatment. Examples include:
Medications can also support a healthy sex life. For menopausal women, hormone-replacement therapy (especially vaginal estrogen) can help with vaginal dryness and pain during sex. There are also several FDA-approved prescription medications used to treat low libido in premenopausal women.
There are options out there for everyone, no matter your gender, anatomy, or physical abilities (link includes explicit images). If you try a treatment, device, or therapy that just doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, don’t give up — maybe try something else! After all, sexual health is different for different people. All people deserve to find what feels authentic, safe, and satisfying.