Just not feeling any sexual spark? According to researchers, this is not uncommon. A recent study found that about 15 percent of men say they’ve had extended periods of reduced sexual desire, or low libido. And that rate is more than double among women.
It’s normal for our sex drives to wax and wane throughout our lives. But having a lower-than-normal libido may indicate an underlying health problem — especially if its onset is sudden, if it persists for a long time, or if the issue keeps recurring.
“Low libido is not, itself, a diagnosis,” explains Nicole Prause, PhD, a sexual psychophysiologist and researcher. “But it can be a symptom of a problem.”
It’s a common response for people experiencing mental health challenges or relationship problems, explains Prause. (Read more in “The Connection Between Libido and Mental Health.”) In other cases, a declining sex drive could be a response to something happening in the body.
Low libido describes a decrease in someone’s sexual desire. It’s a highly personal measure, as it depends on what level of sexual desire someone considers “normal” to begin with — and that can vary greatly from person to person.
Prause offers a few guidelines that can help clarify whether your libido is taking an unusual turn and might therefore require a discussion with your primary care provider. (And talking to a healthcare professional is important — there are many low libido “supplements” on the market that make false promises, and some may even be hazardous to your health.) She suggests considering:
• When you first noticed a change in your sex drive
• When you notice sexual urges — for instance, if there are partners or situations in which you still find yourself experiencing sexual desire
• Other aspects of your sexual response — sometimes, a lack of desire can stem from anxiety involving performance or discomfort during sex
Many people find that libido decreases with age, but it’s important to take stock of your general health in order to understand whether lifestyle or medical concerns might be contributing to low libido. This helps guide what steps you can take — and helps you understand when it’s time to see your doctor.
Look out for these physical issues connected to a decreased sex drive:
Fatigue is a very common cause of low libido.
“Not sleeping well or regularly is important to understanding why your libido may have changed,” says Prause.
Research shows that insufficient sleep contributes to problems like erectile dysfunction, lack of arousal, and lower sex drives. One theory is that a lack of sleep impacts the body’s levels of testosterone, a sex hormone that helps regulate libido (in all genders).
Inadequate sleep isn’t the only thing that can mess with our body’s sex hormones. As we age, the levels of our body’s hormones — like estrogen and testosterone — naturally decline.
In some women, lower estrogen can have physical effects that can lead to painful sex, like vaginal dryness. Testosterone levels are associated with sexual desire in people of all genders — so as hormone levels decline with age, so can libido.
Sex may feel like an afterthought when you’ve got a lot on your plate. But feeling stressed out also has physical effects that can interfere with someone’s sex drive.
That's because our body produces cortisol when we are under stress. This hormone works to enhance certain responses in our body that help us deal with whatever’s triggering our stress, such as breathing and blood pressure. But for this to happen, other processes get suppressed — including the sex hormones that drive our libido.
Heavy alcohol consumption and longer-term use of drugs like marijuana and opiates may disrupt the body’s sex hormone levels as well. The Cleveland Clinic describes this heavy alcohol use as having more than 10 to 14 drinks per week.
Long-term illnesses like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes can cause symptoms like fatigue and mood changes, issues that affect libido, and these conditions can have an impact on sexual function. In some cases, the medication treating a chronic condition might be dampening desire.
Some medications with low libido listed as a possible side effect include:
• Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs]
• Heart medication
• Cancer treatments
• Anti-androgens, which treat many conditions, such as prostate cancer, and are used as a component of hormone therapy for some transgender women
• 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, which are sometimes prescribed for enlarged prostate glands and male pattern hair loss
• Opioid analgesics
• Hormone therapies including oral contraceptives
The right treatment approach for low libido depends on its cause.
If medication or a contraceptive is interfering with your sex drive, for example, you should talk to your healthcare provider about your options for switching to a new prescription with fewer side effects. Your doctor will also be able to help you find a solution if a physical issue is reducing your interest in sex — for instance, if sex is painful or if you are unable to maintain an erection.
Research shows that lifestyle changes can go a long way in boosting libido as well — for instance:
• Exercising and eating a healthy diet
• Getting enough sleep
• Effectively managing your health and chronic conditions
But if a change in libido is sudden, it’s important to consult your doctor. This may indicate a medical issue that needs prompt attention.
Psychological or emotional conditions can also contribute to low libido. In these cases, therapy — either individually or with your partner — can help.
Any condition that’s impacting your life and well-being should be assessed by a medical professional. If you’re struggling to turn your libido back up, get in touch with us at Carbon Health, to connect with one of our caring, non-judgmental healthcare professionals.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.