When it comes to libido, everyone is unique. What one person may consider a high libido may be low for another, and vice versa. It’s also normal for libido to change over time, or even day to day. For example, a person may feel like getting it on all the time one week, and have no desire for sexual activity the next. While it’s natural for libido to change, if you’ve noticed your libido has steadily decreased from your personal “normal,” you may wonder why and what to do about it.
What is libido?
Libido — also known as a person’s sex drive — is the frequency and intensity someone desires sexual activity. While wanting sex doesn’t always mean you want to have a baby, your libido is linked to your body’s evolutionary need to reproduce. It’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s time to mate, so to speak.
According to The World Health Organization, “sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality.” For that reason, Dr. Sashini Seeni, a GP at DoctorOnCall, tells O.school that modern physicians recognize libido as one of the key indicators of general health and quality of life.
While libido is certainly important, there is no “normal” libido as everyone’s sex drive runs at different speeds. Some people have no libido at all. Whatever constant your sex drive stays at for most of the time is your normal libido.
Why has my libido decreased?
Dr. Seeni tells O.school that low libido, or a “decreased interest in sexual activity,” is a fairly common occurrence, and for the most part, shouldn’t cause concern. We don’t have to be interested in sex all day, every day. Nor do we have to match our partner’s libido at all times. “However, low libido for a long period of time may cause concern for some people,” Dr. Seeni says. “It can sometimes be an indicator of an underlying health condition.”
Here are a few common causes for decreased libido:
- Mental health. If you’re experiencing stress, depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, lack of sleep, etc., your libido may decrease. “Besides hormones, libido depends heavily on the amount of personal energy you have available at the time,” says Garcia. “People who are fatigued, stressed, depressed, sick, lack financial stability, etc., all have suppressed libido. Evolutionarily speaking this is your body’s reaction to stress as a signal that raising an infant is a much higher risk, so reproduction at times of stress is not ideal.”
- Hormones. Low levels of testosterone or estrogen, either caused by a natural fluctuations, age, or by medications like birth control or antidepressants (SSRIs), can cause your libido to decrease.
- Chronic illness. Dr. Seeni says that illnesses and health issues like diabetes, cancer, obesity, and high cholesterol (as well as medications to treat such issues) can weaken your libido over time.
- Drugs and alcohol. According to Springboard Recovery, alcohol acts as a depressant, meaning it hinders the nervous system, thus thwarting blood circulation, nerve sensitivity, and respiration—all vital for healthy arousal. Furthermore, alcohol can cause dehydration and increased levels of angiotensin, a hormone connected with erectile dysfunction.
Similarly, drug use, of both marijuana and opioids, has also been shown to cause erectile dysfunction in some people, North Point Recovery reports.
- Relationship issues. If you are not confident in your relationship for any reason, or simply feel disconnected to your partner, sexually or otherwise, you may experience a decrease in sexual desire. Sometimes, reaching out to a therapist or a relationship counselor can help.
- Falling into a sexual routine. Everyone needs different things out of their sexual experiences at different times. If you’re finding your sex life to be boring, or if you’ve fallen into a routine with a partner that’s not working for you, this can cause your libido to drop.
- Age. “Typically, as we age, libido decreases for a couple reasons,” former sex educator Paul Garcia tells O.school. “One, we don’t need to keep reproducing because women’s fertility ends with menopause.”
Menopause, or the natural decrease of hormone production in the ovaries, results in a drop in estrogen as well as a decline in libido. People who are biologically male also go through a hormonal change as they age, but less rapidly and drastically as their female counterparts. This transition, called andropause, causes a gradual decrease of testosterone over time, which therefore affects sexual desire.
How to increase libido
There are many ways to increase your libido, either naturally or with medication. Here are a few ways to increase your libido naturally.
- Reduce stress. Whether you meditate, take some deep breaths, seek counselling, or weed out unnecessary stressors from your day to day, reducing stress and anxiety can help your libido return to your normal.
- Tweak your diet and exercise routine. Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough exercise can help your sex drive bounce back to what it once was.
Raj Laungani, M.D., a urologist at Piedmont Physicians Urology Specialists, tells Piedmont Healthcare that there is no direct link between your sex drive and aphrodisiac foods (like oysters, chocolate, and pomegranate), which some say boost libido. However, he does say that an overall healthy diet affects energy levels and mood, which impact sex drive.
- Reduce alcohol or drug intake. According to Addiction Resource, alcohol use can increase sexual desire at first, but cause problems when the sexual activity begins. Because alcohol can dehydrate the body, it can cause painful intercourse and vaginal dryness. Some have also reported that alcohol is linked to dissatisfaction in orgasm or an inability to reach orgasm, due to the fact that alcohol interferes with the nervous system.
- Do things that make you feel sexy. If you aren’t feeling like getting it on with a partner, sometimes the best way to jog your libido is to start with yourself. Do things that make you feel attractive, sexy, or sensual like buying some lingerie, experimenting with sex toys, and/or masturbating. Re-discovering your sexuality can help get you in the mood.
- Pay attention to what turns you on. Sociologist and clinical sexologist Sarah Melancon, PhD, tells O.school that figuring out what turns you on the most is key to maintaining a healthy libido.
Sex researcher Emily Nagoski asserts that we need to have more sexual accelerators, the things that personally arouse us, and fewer sexual decelerators, which turn us off.
- Communicate with your partner. If you’re feeling a disconnect between yourself and your partner, either in the bedroom or just in general, communicating your feelings is key to feeling confident in your sex life. Talking with your sexual partner can either solve the issue at hand, or get to the root of the problem so that you can work toward a better, healthier relationship. You can also communicate the ways your partner can help you increase your libido and get back to the sex life you once had/want.
- Get experimental in the bedroom. If you feel your libido has decreased because you’ve fallen into sexual routines you find boring, try introducing new ways of experimenting in the bedroom — whether that’s using sex toys, incorporating dirty talk or role playing, or trying creative sex positions.
How can men increase their libido?
Those who are biologically male, may experience a lower libido for a couple of reasons specific to their physiology. For example, Harvard Health Publishing states that low testosterone levels caused by hypogonadism, which occurs when the testicles do not produce enough testosterone, can affect sex drive. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can also cause physiological and/or emotional issues that may lower libido.
Medications to increase libido for men.
If you’re finding natural methods aren’t enough to increase your libido, consider speaking to a healthcare provider who may prescribe medications to help. Here are just a few options:
- Ask your doctor about taking a medication for erectile dysfunction (ED). Though ED medications will not directly affect your libido, knowing that ED will no longer be an issue can boost your confidence and help assure you that you will be able to perform when the time comes, therefore enhancing your drive to partake in sexual activity.
- Check out testosterone therapy. Harvard Health Publishing cites a 2016 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism “showed that a year of testosterone therapy improved libido in 275 men (average age 72) with confirmed low testosterone. Compared with men in a placebo group, frequency of sexual arousal increased by about 50 percent, and they were able to have almost twice as many erections.”
How can females increase their libido?
Those who are biologically female may experience ebbs and flows in their libido for a few physiological reasons. For example, Dr. Melancon tells O.school that some women may experience changes in libido throughout the menstrual cycle, with sexual interest peaking at the time of ovulation. Some women have lower libido during their period, because of cramps and bloating. Some may experience a more steady decrease in libido once they begin menopause. This is because estrogen levels drop, thereby decreasing sex drive, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hormonal changes also may occur during pregnancy and after childbirth, which can also reduce one’s desire for sex.
Medications to increase libido for women.
If natural methods aren’t enough to increase your libido, consider speaking to a healthcare provider who may prescribe medication to increase your sex drive. Here are a few medications to increase libido for women:
- Prescription medications. Your doctor may prescribe you one of several medications to help improve your sex drive and/or help with vaginal dryness. Two FDA-approved drugs are currently available for premenopausal women experiencing low libido are Flibanserin (Addyi), a pill that you take once a day, and Bremelanotide (Vyleesi), “an injection you give yourself just under the skin in the belly or thigh before anticipated sexual activity,” according to The Mayo Clinic.
- Hormone therapy. The Mayo Clinic recommends talking to your doctor about starting hormone therapy to subdue the symptoms of genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM), that being an umbrella diagnosis for multiple menopause-related symptoms, including vaginal dryness or shrinking.
Your doctor may try different types of hormone therapy including estrogen, testosterone, and/or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) depending on your test results and diagnoses.
Your libido can be fickle depending on a variety of circumstances. However, fluctuation is generally normal and shouldn’t worry you. If you’re concerned about a steady drop in sex drive, absolutely open up to your doctor, and/or your partner, about the libido-related issues you’re experiencing. There are a multitude of avenues to walk down if restoring your sex drive is what you’re aiming for. It might just take some experimenting—but that can actually be the fun and enjoyable part.