Low libido, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm aren’t always strictly related to sexual function or sex organs — they can also be influenced by our mental and emotional state or an underlying health issue. For that reason, many people turn to acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice of penetrating the skin with tiny stainless steel needles, for its holistic approach to sexual health and well-being.
Acupuncture is one of the most common treatments used in traditional Chinese medicine to help improve a person’s sexual health, and a growing body of evidence indicates that it may help in improving libido, sexual dysfunction, and some underlying issues that can make sex less pleasurable.
“We often have people come in for an issue that’s related to sexual health,” says Joseph Alban, a doctor of acupuncture and New York State–licensed acupuncturist who has been practicing for nearly two decades at Alban Acupuncture in New York City.
“It can be for a primary issue, such as poor libido or premature ejaculation, or related to an underlying health issue, like pelvic pain or endometriosis,” he says.
How Acupuncture Works
While Western medicine regards the body as a series of mechanical, chemical, and electrical circuits, in the traditional Chinese system, the body is seen as more holistic.
“Acupuncture is useful in treating many different conditions to help people reach their optimum health. Sexual health is an important component of that,” says Dr. Alban.
Qi can be translated as “vital life force,” and it refers to the life energy that Chinese medicine practitioners believe enhances health and libido. “We use qi to grow, digest food, reproduce, heal the body, exercise, do our daily activities, and detoxify. All of the functions of the body come in some way from qi,” says Alban.
According to traditional Chinese medicine beliefs, “there is the qi we were born with, which is what people in the West might call a person’s constitution, and then we also get qi from the food we eat and air we breathe,” says Alban.
The traditional system uses acupuncture to address deficiencies or imbalances of this life force, he explains. “When a person comes to see us, we look for the underlying imbalance through our exam and then customize the treatment to target different aspects of that underlying imbalance,” he says.
What causes a lack of qi? Alban believes that qi is regulated through stress management and moving your body. “One becomes deficient in qi largely by poor diet, too much stress, drinking too much, not enough exercise, and illnesses. Acupuncture helps to stimulate the body to improve the production and flow of qi, which allows the body to replenish the qi,” he adds.
The practice uses needles to remove blockages or imbalances in the qi energy that connects the various organs, helping life force and energy to flow, per StatPearls.
One example is kidney qi deficiency, which has been said to be linked with low libido, according to Treatment of Infertility With Chinese Medicine (Second Edition). “But more evidence is needed to establish this link. “In kidney qi deficiency, the energy of the kidneys is weak, and we have to work on boosting it up to address the issue,” says Alban.
Alban recommends choosing and combining specific acupuncture points such as kidney 3 (tai xi, or Great Ravine) or urinary bladder 23 (Shenshu, or Kidney Shu) along with other acupuncture points that help move the qi.
“We may also use different types of stimulation along with acupuncture, such as moxabustion, which is the burning of the herb mugwort close to the skin,” he says.
In Alban’s experience, acupuncture is typically given over a series of weeks. People will often come in for weekly visits for two to four months. While some do well on their own without acupuncture maintenance, for other patients, he’ll design a program that requires once a month visits or a series of three or four visits in a row once or twice a year.
What the Research Says
A pilot study published in August 2022 in Sexual Medicine found that acupuncture was associated with significant improvements in female sexual dysfunction. A total of 24 women received acupuncture from October 2018 to February 2022, and changes in sexual function before and after treatment were assessed via a questionnaire. Sexual desire, sexual arousal, vaginal lubrication, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and dyspareunia (pain during intercourse) were all significantly improved after the treatment.
In a systematic review published in October 2021 in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, which aimed to evaluate the effect of acupressure on sexual dysfunction, researchers looked at 13 papers and found evidence that acupuncture has a positive effect on sexual dysfunction with no serious side effects. Benefits were observed in desire, libido, erectile dysfunction, and impotency.
Addressing Underlying Issues That May Contribute to Sex Problems
If a patient has a condition that affects libido, enjoyment of sex, or ability to orgasm — whether that’s due to hormonal issues, endometriosis, depression, headaches, fatigue, or others causes — an acupuncturist will look for the underlying diagnosis and use needles in the points appropriate for that diagnosis.
There’s also evidence that acupuncture can help improve some of these underlying issues, says Alban.
A randomized, controlled trial of 106 women with endometriosis published in May 2023 in Fertility and Sterility found that acupuncture improved menstrual cramps, shortened pain duration, and improved well-being and quality of life, although the efficacy faded after the treatment was stopped.
Acupuncture can help men with underlying issues, too. A meta-analysis published in December 2022 in European Urology Open Science found that “current evidence supports acupuncture as an effective treatment for chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome symptoms, especially in reducing pain.”
Getting Acupuncture Is Good for Stress — Which Helps Sex
Anita Sadaty, MD, an integrative gynecologist and functional medicine doctor in Roslyn, New York, is also a fan of acupuncture for boosting sexual health. In her view, one of its most powerful effects is through the stress-hormone pathway.
“Acupuncture is an amazing technique for reducing and balancing stress hormone levels, which in turn impact state of mind, relaxation, and therefore, desire,” she says. Although, she adds, anyone with a sexual dysfunction should have a workup by a physician to check for physical conditions or medications they take that can inhibit desire or sexual enjoyment.
Find an Experienced Acupuncturist Near You
Most acupuncturists will be able to address any conditions related to sexual health in terms of finding the pattern and balance, and addressing that with acupuncture points, notes Alban. “Issues related to sexual well-being and the best way of approaching it with acupuncture and other therapies have been discussed for centuries in Chinese medicine, which is over 2,500 years old,” he says.
There are several types of licensed acupuncturists:
- Some medical doctors receive extra training in the method. Many are members of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA). Find the group’s referral directory on the AAMA website.
- Other acupuncturists are specifically trained through a multiyear master’s program in acupuncture or traditional Chinese medicine. They then take a national certification exam by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). You can find a NCCAOM-certified practitioner on its website (click on “Find a Practitioner,” then input your city and state).
- Naturopathic physicians are trained to do acupuncture. You can find a practitioner at the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Put your ZIP code into the group’s online directory.
If you have a fear of needles, you can speak to a practitioner about the possibility of using nonneedle acupuncture, which uses pressure on the points instead.
Health Insurance Coverage and Acupuncture Treatments
Some insurance plans cover acupuncture, but many do not, cautions Alban. “It can also depend on what your issue is. Conditions that are related to pain may be more likely to be covered,” he says.
Fortunately, to treat symptoms of sexual dysfunction and improve sexual health, only a limited number of sessions are typically needed. What’s more, acupuncture is proven to help relieve common problems, such as allergies, anxiety, and sleep disorders like insomnia — and more than one ailment can be treated by an acupuncturist simultaneously.
Additional reporting by Meryl Davids Landau.