acupuncture for erectile dysfunction_full_optBy Sara Calabro

That’s not the little blue pill up there. It’s a stand in, since I didn’t have any Viagra in the house.

But a lot of people do have Viagra in the house. The New York Times recently reported that sales of erectile-dysfunction drugs reached $5 billion last year. And usage of ED medications, already up 6.9 percent in 2010, is poised to grow even more—Viagra loses patent protection in 2012, making way for lower-cost generics that will eliminate price as an access barrier.

ED drugs are popular for the same reason they’re problematic.

Viagra has nothing on acupuncture

The complexity of sexuality means there are a variety of factors that can inhibit its healthy manifestation. This casts a pretty wide net in terms of who can benefit from therapies that help promote a balanced sex life.

However, it also means that men experience ED for all different reasons. Yet Viagra et al. treat every case of ED exactly the same way, not only failing to address the underlying issue but also potentially exacerbating it by encouraging dependence.

An acupuncture approach to ED involves looking at a collection of symptoms—some clearly ED-related, some seemingly not—to identify an overall pattern of disharmony. Rather than trying to induce a temporary anatomical response, the acupuncturist looks to repair the root disharmony thereby eliminating the need for ongoing treatment.

How do acupuncturists think about sex problems?

In acupuncture theory, sexual dysfunction of any sort—impotence, and also premature ejaculation, painful intercourse, and lack of or excessive libido—usually involves a disharmony of the Kidney system.

The Kidneys are considered the root of life and represent the deepest aspects of a person. They store what’s known as Essence, which can be thought of as vitality, or that which gives us life and makes us our unique self.

As the holder of Essence, the Kidney system is responsible for birth, reproduction and sexuality.

One of the most common patterns in men with ED is Kidney Yang Deficiency.

In addition to impotence, other signs of Kidney Yang Deficiency include dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, sore back and knees, cold limbs and frequent urination. Another way of describing this pattern is to say that Ming-men or Life Gate Fire—thought of as the Yang aspect of Kidney Essence—is deficient or declining.

Giovanni Maciocia, in The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, says, “Sexual performance, fertility, puberty and menstruation all depend on the Fire of the Gate of Life. If the Fire of the Gate of Life declines, the Essence in men and the Uterus in women will turn cold, causing impotence and sterility in men and lack of sexual desire and infertility in women.”

It’s not all about Kidney

While Kidney is usually the first thought in cases of ED and other sexual issues, multiple systems can play a role.

The Heart, for example, controls our ability to be affectionate. Spleen relates to the nurturing aspect of sex. Liver has to do with being assertive.

ED that is more Heart-related in nature might be accompanied by palpitations and insomnia. When Spleen and Liver are involved, it’s usually because Damp Heat is present, so men might also notice heaviness in the scrotum and urethral discharge; bitter taste in the mouth, dark urine, and thirst might be there as well.

Ultimately, a decline in Kidney Essence can cause or be caused by problems in any system.

“The entire body and all the Organs of the body need Essence in order to thrive,” says Ted Kaptchuk, in The Web That Has No Weaver. “The Kidneys, because they store Essence, bestow this potential for life activity. They have, therefore, a special relationship with the other Organs in that they hold the underlying texture of each Organ’s existence.”

Because of this interconnectedness, just treating the Kidneys may not be enough; a disruption in any system potentially can affect the strength of Kidney Essence, the driving force behind sexuality.

Acupuncturists combine verbal, visual and palpatory diagnostic tools to determine which systems are contributing to ED.

ED is an external manifestation of a deeper imbalance, not a shameful symptom to be masked with artificial enhancers. By targeting ED at the root level, acupuncture actually alters the underlying pattern of disharmony, allowing men to engage in sexual activity that’s dictated by instinct rather than dependence.

Photo by Sara Calabro

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