Low sexual drive, also referred to as low libido, describes a decreased interest in sexual activity.
It’s common to lose interest in sex from time to time, and libido levels vary through life. It’s also normal for your interest not to match your partners at times.
Everyone's sexual drive is different. There's no such thing as a "normal" libido. Most times, what is designated as one partner's low level of sexual desire or drive may more accurately reflect a hyperactive sexual drive in the other partner.
However, low libido for a long period of time may cause concern for some people. If you find your lack of desire for sex distressing or it's affecting your relationship, it's a good idea to get help.
Sexual drive (desire or urge) and responsiveness normally differ between men and women. Men are more readily physiologically aroused than women, and for them, desire is tied tightly to this arousal. Among women, sexual drive is typically more psychological and situational, influenced by how they feel about their bodies as well as the quality of relationship with their partner. Moreover, women often times do not experience a desire until after they are genitally aroused, and arousal may require an extended period of foreplay.
The waning of sexual drive is sometimes considered inevitable in a long-term relationship, but it is unclear whether that is truly the case or whether it is a function of age or familiarity.
If your lack of interest in sex continues or returns and causes personal distress, you may have a condition medically called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).
But you don't have to meet this medical definition to seek help. If you're bothered by a low sexual drive or decreased sexual desire, there are lifestyle changes and sexual techniques that may put you in the mood more often. Some medications may offer promise as well.
Low sexual drive can often be treated. Increasingly, experts are optimistic that one’s sexual urge can stay alive throughout the lifespan.
Symptoms of low sexual drive include:
Having no interest in any type of sexual activity, including masturbation
Never or only seldom having sexual fantasies or thoughts
Being concerned by your lack of sexual activity or fantasies
What Causes Low Sexual Drive?
There is a complex interaction of many things affecting intimacy that leads to low sexual drive including physical and psychological well-being, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle, and one’s current relationship. Experiencing one or more problems in any of these areas can affect one’s desire for sex.
Sexual problems. If you have pain during sex or can't orgasm, it can reduce your desire for sex. Also, ejaculation problems (like premature ejaculation), erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness and involuntary tightening of the vagina (vaginismus) can all cause a drop in one’s sexual desire.
Chronic illness. When you’re not feeling well due to the effects of a chronic health condition, such as chronic pain, sex is likely low on your list of priorities. Certain illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, an underactive thyroid (where the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones), coronary artery disease and neurological diseases can affect one’s sexual drive.
Medications. Certain prescription drugs, especially antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are known to lower the sex drive.
Lifestyle habits. A glass of wine may put you in the mood, but too much alcohol can affect your sex drive. The same is true of street drugs or drug misuse. Also, smoking decreases blood flow, which may dull arousal.
Sleep problems. A study found that men with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) experience lower testosterone levels. In turn, this leads to decreased sexual activity and libido.
Surgery. Any surgery related to your breasts or genital tract can affect your body image, sexual function and desire for sex.
Fatigue. Exhaustion from caring for young children, aging parents or even from one’s work place can contribute to low sex drive. Fatigue from illness or surgery also can play a role in a low sex drive.
Menopause. Oestrogen levels drop during the transition to menopause. This can make you less interested in sex and cause dry vaginal tissues, resulting in painful or uncomfortable sex. Although many women still have satisfying sex during menopause and beyond, some experience a lagging libido during this hormonal change.
Pregnancy, giving birth and breast-feeding. Loss of interest in sex is common during pregnancy, after giving birth and while breastfeeding for some people. This can be because of changes in hormone levels, changes to your body and issues with your body image, exhaustion, painful sex caused by an injury such as a cut or tear during childbirth, and changed priorities such as focusing on looking after your baby.
Low testosterone. Decreasing testosterone is a normal part of aging. However, a drastic drop in testosterone can lead to decreased libido.
Psychological causes. Your state of mind can affect your sexual desire, which includes mental health problems (such as anxiety or depression), stress (such as financial stress or work stress), low self-esteem (as a result of having an unhealthy body image. Someone who feels unattractive is less likely to want to engage in sex. Fears of rejection may also come in to play), history of physical or sexual abuse and previous negative sexual experiences.
Relationship issues. For many women, emotional closeness is an essential prelude to sexual intimacy. So problems in one’s relationship can be a major factor causing low sexual desire. Decreased interest in sex is often a result of ongoing issues, such as lack of connection with your partner, unresolved conflicts or fights, poor communication of sexual needs and preferences and trust issues.
Not eating well. Feed yourself well so you can feed your sexual drive. We all love a good piece of pizza, but if you're not giving yourself a balanced diet, your sex drive may be suffering a big blow.
No one thing causes low libido. Know your body and tell your doctor what you’re feeling. Don’t hold back. That’s the only way your doctor can know the root of the problem. And the sooner you know, the sooner you can get back to feeling like yourself again.
So it’s crucial to talk to your doctor if you're worried your sex drive has dropped. Once he figures out the causes, he can tell you the best course of action, or refer you to another doctor who can.
By definition, you may be diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) if you frequently lack sexual thoughts or desire, and the absence of these feelings causes personal distress. Whether you fit this medical diagnosis or not, your doctor can look for reasons that your sex drive isn't as high as you would like and find ways to help.
In addition to asking you questions about your medical and sexual history, your doctor may also:
Perform a physical examination.
Recommend testing. Your doctor may order blood tests to check hormone levels and check for thyroid problems, diabetes, high cholesterol and liver disorders.
Refer you to a specialist. A specialized counsellor or sex therapist may be able to better evaluate emotional and relationship factors that can cause low sexual drive.
Treating Low Sexual Drive
Depending on the cause, possible treatments include:
Healthier lifestyle choices. Improve your diet, get regular exercise and enough sleep, cut down on alcohol consumption, stop smoking and the misuse of drugs (drug abuse), and reduce stress.
Change to a new medication, if the one you are on is affecting your libido.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could be offered as treatment to increase hormone levels, which also includes testosterone replacement therapy if low levels are causing problems.
Your doctor may recommend therapy if the issue is psychological. In many cases, a low libido points to a desire for a closer connection with your partner, one that isn’t sexual, but still intimate. It can help to talk through these issues with a therapist, either alone or with your partner. If the issue is depression, antidepressants can help. Some of them actually lower your sexual drive, though.
What about the meds you may have seen in TV and magazine advertisements, like Cialis, Levitra, and Viagra? They all don’t boost libido. They only help you get and keep erections.
Communicate with your partner. Couples who learn to communicate in an open, honest way usually maintain a stronger emotional connection, which can lead to better sex. Communicating about sex also is important. Talking about your likes and dislikes can set the stage for greater sexual intimacy.
Set aside time for intimacy. Scheduling sex into your calendar may seem contrived and boring. But making intimacy a priority can help put your sexual drive back on track.
Add a little spice to your sex life. Try a different sexual position, a different time of day or a different location for sex. Ask your partner to spend more time on foreplay.
Try eating certain fruits. Little evidence supports the effectiveness of certain foods, but there’s no harm in experimenting. Figs, bananas, and avocados, for example, are considered libido-boosting foods, known as aphrodisiacs. But these foods also provide important vitamins and minerals that can increase blood flow to the genitals and promote a healthy sex life.
Boost your self-confidence. The way you feel about your body affects the way you feel about sex. You can boost your self-esteem and your sex drive by shifting the focus from your flaws to your attributes. You can also focus on the pleasure experienced during sex.
Coping and support
Low sex drive can be very difficult for you and your partner. It's natural to feel frustrated or sad if you aren't able to be as sexy and romantic as you want or you used to be.
At the same time, low sexual drive can make your partner feel rejected, which can lead to conflicts and strife. And this type of relationship turmoil can further reduce desire for sex.
It may help to remember that fluctuations in sexual urge are a normal part of every relationship and every stage of life. Try not to focus all of your attention on sex. Instead, spend some time nurturing yourself and your relationship.
Go for a long walk. Get a little extra sleep. Kiss your partner goodbye before you head out the door. Make a date night at your favourite restaurant. Feeling good about yourself and your partner can actually be the best foreplay.
Finally, don't feel embarrassed about getting help if need be. Lots of people experience problems with their sex drive, and seeking advice can be the first step towards resolving the issue.