In any checklist of the body parts that men consider most critical to strong and fulfilling sexual performance, it’s doubtful that the spine would rank near the top of the list. However, without a strong back or spinal cord, multiple aspects of male sexual function can suffer significantly, according to SpinalHub.com.au, which is an online educational resource of Australia’s Victorian Spinal Cord Injury Program.
And it’s hardly a coincidence that back pain is one of the most widely cited reasons for skipping sexual intercourse altogether or taking an alternative path to sexual release. Nor is it particularly surprising that sexual intercourse is itself a leading cause of back pain, presumably for those whose underlying spinal strength is not all that it should be.
Strong Spine = Strong Erection
SpinalHub links the quality and durability of your erection to overall spinal strength and health, noting that there are two kinds of erections that prolong sexual action and help to prevent premature ejaculation. The first, known as the reflex erection, occurs in response to physical stimuli, such as masturbation or rubbing against the inner thigh. The reflex erection is controlled by the parasympathetic nerves of the spinal cord at sacral levels S2, S3, and S4. The sacrum or sacral portion is near the base of the spine.
The second type of erection is known as the psychogenic erection and, as its name suggests, it occurs in response to mental stimuli of a romantic nature. Controlling the psychogenic erection are the sympathetic nerves from T-10, low on the thoracic spine, down to L2 on the lumbar spine, along with the help of the parasympathetic nerves at the S2 and S4 levels.
Optimal Erection for Intercourse
The optimal erection for sexual intercourse, according to SpinalHub, combines both the reflex and psychogenic forms of erection and is thus dependent on nerves at multiple intervals along the spinal column. Deterioration of the spine that impinges on any of these nerves can detract from the quality of erection.
While most men assume that masturbation or some other form of physical stimulation triggers the release of semen upon orgasm, SpinalHub points out that it’s actually the spinal cord that plays the key role in getting the job done. Sympathetic nerves from T-11 on the thoracic spine down to L-2 on the lumbar spine control the production of sperm by your reproductive glands and the release of the sperm into your urethra.
The pleasurable sensations that accompany ejaculation are also dependent on the activity of parasympathetic nerves at levels S-2 and S-4 of the sacral spine, which transmit those orgasmic sensations from the male genitals to the brain.
The spinal cord and the network of nerves that branch from it are so involved in key aspects of male sexual function that it’s easy to see how important it is to maintain a strong and healthy spine. But for those men who may have been remiss in caring for their spine, what options exist?
In an article posted at CNN.com, Kenneth Hansraj, M.D., chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation, offers some some valuable tips that can help you strengthen your spine. And the benefits from a stronger spine extend far beyond the benefits to your sex life. After all, the millions of nerves that radiate from the spinal column control virtually every aspect of the body’s functions. Neglect your spine, and back pain is hardly the only adverse effect. Other ill effects can include pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms and legs; difficulty with bladder and bowel control; and problems with digestion and breathing.
Maintain Good Posture
As you were no doubt told by parents, teachers, and other authority figures while you were growing up, no good can possibly come from slouching. Dr. Hansraj writes that good posture is defined “as ears aligned with the shoulders and the ‘angel wings,’ or the shoulder blades, retracted. In proper alignment, spinal stress is diminished. It is the most efficient position to achieve the best posture possible.”
Apart from its obvious benefits for your spine, good posture can deliver additional benefits, says Dr. Hansraj. In support of his argument, he cites a research study at San Francisco State University that found a relationship between lousy posture and depression. Other unwelcome health conditions linked to poor posture include anxiety, heartburn, migraines, respiratory conditions, and weight gain.
Deep Belly Breathing
If you’ve spent an undue amount of your youth slouching, you may be able to undo some of the damage to your posture by adopting a regular routine of deep belly breathing. To make sure you’re targeting the proper area, place both hands on your belly and feel it move as you inhale and exhale. Repeat this exercise as many times as possible throughout the day. Dr. Hansraj points out that “deep belly breathing enables the spinal nerves to move within the spinal channels, diminishing pain and providing a sense of well-being.”
You can further strengthen your spine, says Dr. Hansraj, by devoting 10 minutes daily to some simple exercises that are known to target the spine. To bolster the cervical spine, you can do neck-stretching exercises, such as bending and extension range-of-motion movements. Such exercises consist of a series of side-to-side, up-and-down, and ear-to-shoulder stretches.
Other exercises beneficial for the spine and posture are push-ups and the use of light weights to improve posture. Yoga aficianados can benefit from poses such as downward dog, which opens up the chest and strengthens the spine, according to Dr. Hansraj.
Eat a Spine-Friendly Diet
All too often overlooked is the importance of diet to the maintenance of a strong and healthy spine, says Dr. Hansraj. A diet that includes hefty servings of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, such as foods high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, helps to build a lean body and the muscles needed to provide good spinal support.
Additionally, if the stresses of 21st century living are making it difficult for you to get all the nutrients you need for optimal spinal health, taking a daily multivitamin or omega-3 supplement may help to fill in some of the nutritional gaps.
The Benefits of Sunshine
Spending a little time each day out in the sunshine can also have significant benefits for the spine. Dr. Hansraj writes, “Sunlight energizes the whole body, literally waking it up and encouraging the body to stand up straighter.” Exposure to the sun is also the best source of vitamin D, which helps to build strong bones, inlcuding the spine.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Consistent failure to get a good night’s sleep — six to eight hours for most adults — has been linked with an increased incidence of back and neck problems. Not only is it important to get enough sleep, but the position in which you sleep can be critical as well. For most adults, sleeping on their side is the position that puts the least amount of strain on the spine and allows for optimal spinal relaxation.
Looking for more help with your sexual health? Our ED medication guide is a great place to start.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
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