Can yoga improve your sex life?

The Internet abounds with wellness blogs that recommend yoga for a better sex life, as well as personal accounts of the practice improving sexual experience — often to an enviable degree. Does the research back up these claims, however? We investigate.

Modern research is only just starting to unpack the numerous health benefits of the ancient practice of yoga.

Some conditions that yoga reportedly helps with include depression, stress, and anxiety, as well as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and thyroid problems.

Recent studies have also delved into the more complex mechanisms behind such benefits.

It turns out that yoga lowers the body's inflammatory response, counters the genetic expression that predisposes people to stress, lowers cortisol, and boosts a protein that helps the brain grow and stay young and healthy.

On top of all its benefits, we must add, it just feels good. Sometimes — if we're to believe the hype around the mythical coregasm during yoga — it feels really, really good.

Getting in touch with our bodies can feel replenishing, restorative, and physically pleasurable. However, can yoga's yummy poses improve our sex lives? We take a look at the research.

Yoga improves sexual function in women

One often-referenced study that was published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that yoga can indeed improve sexual function — particularly in women over the age of 45.

The triangle pose was among those shown to improve sexual function — particularly in older women.

The study examined the effects of 12 weeks of yoga on 40 women who self-reported on their sexual function before and after the yoga sessions.

After the 12-week period, the women's sexual function had significantly improved across all sections of the Female Sexual Function Index: "desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain."

As many as 75 percent of the women reported an improvement in their sex life after yoga training.

As part of the study, all of the women were trained on 22 poses, or yogasanas, which are believed to improve core abdominal muscles, improve digestion, strengthen the pelvic floor, and improve mood.

Some poses included trikonasana (also known as the triangle pose), bhujangasana (the snake), and ardha matsyendra mudra (half spinal twist). The full list of asanas can be accessed here.

Yoga improves sexual function in men

Yoga doesn't benefit just women. An analogous study led Dr. Vikas Dhikav, who's a neurologist at the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi, India, examined the effects of a 12-week yoga program on the sexual satisfaction of men.

The bow pose may improve sexual performance in men.

At the end of the study period, the participants reported a significant improvement in their sexual function, as evaluated by the standard Male Sexual Quotient.

The researchers found improvements across all aspects of male sexual satisfaction: "desire, intercourse satisfaction, performance, confidence, partner synchronization, erection, ejaculatory control, [and] orgasm."

Also, a comparative trial carried out by the same team of researchers found that yoga is a viable and nonpharmacological alternative to fluoxetine (brand name Prozac) for treating premature ejaculation.

It included 15 yoga poses, ranging from easier ones (such as Kapalbhati, which involves sitting with your back straight in a crossed-legged position, with the chest open, eyes closed, hands on knees, and abdominal muscles contracted) to more complex ones (such as dhanurasana, or the "bow pose").

Yogic mechanisms for better sex

How does yoga improve one's sex life, exactly? A review of existing literature led by researchers at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, helps us elucidate some of its sex-enhancing mechanisms.

Yoga could help partners enjoy better sex.

Dr. Lori Brotto, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at UBC, is the first author of the review.

Dr. Brotto and colleagues explain that yoga regulates attention and breathing, lowers anxiety and stress, and regulates parasympathetic nervous activity — that is, it activates the part of the nervous system that tells your body to stop, relax, rest, digest, lower the heart rate, and triggers any other metabolic processes that induce relaxation.

"All of these effects are associated with improvements in sexual response," write the reviewers, so it is "reasonable that yoga might also be associated with improvements in sexual health."

There are also psychological mechanisms at play. "Female practitioners of yoga have been found to be less likely to objectify their bodies," explain Dr. Brotto and her colleagues, "and to be more aware of their physical selves."

"This tendency, in turn, may be associated with increased sexual responsibility and assertiveness, and perhaps sexual desires."

The power of the moola bandha

It is safe to say that stories about releasing blocked energy in root chakras and moving "kundalini energy" up and down the spine to the point that it produces ejaculation-free male orgasms lack rigorous scientific evidence.

However, other yogic concepts could make more sense to the skeptics among us. Moola bandha is one such concept.

"Moola bandha is a perineal contraction that stimulates the sensory-motor and the autonomic nervous system in the pelvic region, and therefore enforces parasympathetic activity in the body," write Dr. Brotto and her colleagues in their review.

"Specifically, moola bandha is thought to directly innervate the gonads and perineal body/cervix." The video below incorporates the movement into a practice for pelvic floor muscles.

Some studies quoted by the researchers have suggested that practicing moola bandha relieves period pain, childbirth pain, and sexual difficulties in women, as well as treating premature ejaculation and controlling testosterone secretion in men.

Moola bandha is similar to the modern, medically recommended Kegel exercises, which are thought to prevent urinary incontinence and help women (and men) enjoy sex for longer.

In fact, many sex therapy centers recommend this yoga practice to help women become more aware of their sensations of arousal in the genital area, thus improving desire and sexual experience.

"[M]oola bandha stretches the muscles of the pelvic floor, [...] balances, stimulates, and rejuvenates the area through techniques that increase awareness and circulation," explain Dr. Brotto and colleagues, referring to the work of other researchers.

Another yoga pose that strengthens the pelvic floor muscles is bhekasana, or the "frog pose."

As well as improving the sexual experience, this pose may help ease symptoms of vestibulodynia, or pain in the vestibule of the vagina, as well as vaginismus, which is the involuntary contraction of vaginal muscles that prevents women from enjoying penetrative sex.

How reliable is the evidence?

While it is easy to get, ahem, excited by the potential sexual benefits of yoga, it is worth bearing in mind the large discrepancy between the amount of so-called empirical, or experimental, evidence, and that of non-empirical, or anecdotal, evidence.

Bhekasana, or the frog pose, may strengthen pelvic muscles.

The Internet hosts a plethora of the latter, but the studies that have actually trialed the benefits of yoga for sexual function remain scarce.

Additionally, most of the studies mentioned above — which found improvements in sexual satisfaction and function for both men and women — have quite a small sample size and didn't benefit from a control group.

However, more recent studies — which focused on women who have sexual dysfunction in addition to other conditions — have yielded stronger evidence.

For example, a randomized controlled trial examined the effects of yoga in women with metabolic syndrome, a population with a higher risk of sexual dysfunction overall.

For these women, a 12-week yoga program led to "significant improvement" in arousal and lubrication, whereas such improvements were not seen in the women who did not practice yoga.

Improvements were also found in blood pressure, prompting the researchers to conclude that "yoga may be an effective treatment for sexual dysfunction in women with metabolic syndrome as well as for metabolic risk factors."

Another randomized trial looked at the sexual benefits of yoga for women living with multiple sclerosis (MS). The participants undertook 3 months of yoga training, consisting of eight weekly sessions.

Importantly, women in the yoga group "showed improvement in physical ability" and sexual function, "while women in [the] control group manifested exacerbated symptoms."

"Yoga techniques may improve physical activities and sexual satisfaction function of women with MS," the study paper concluded.

So, while we need more scientific evidence to support yoga's benefits for our sex lives, the seeds are definitely there. Until future research can ascertain whether "yogasms" are a real, achievable thing, we think that there's enough reason to incorporate yoga in our daily routines.

Trying it out for ourselves could prove tremendously enriching — and our pelvic muscles will definitely thank us for it.