The Connection Between Libido and Mental Health

Carbon Health Editorial Team
July 13, 2021
4.5 mins

You’ve got deadlines at work, an alarm set for 5:30 a.m., and a to-do list that keeps on growing. On days like this, it comes as no surprise that you’re just not in the mood.

Our sex lives often take a hit as our lives get busier. This is because stress has physical and psychological impacts on our bodies that work to dampen our sexual desire, an issue known as low libido.

But while everyone experiences stressful days from time to time, a noticeably lower sex drive can point to other issues that need to be addressed, explains clinical sexologist Katie Lasson.

“It’s not uncommon for interest in intimacy to decrease or increase from time to time,” she says. But if a lack of libido persists for more than six months, it might be a symptom of something more serious at play.

What Causes Low Libido?

Chronic conditions like diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease can weaken our desire for sex. Symptoms like fatigue or discomfort quickly reduce our interest in sex — and low libido is a common side effect of many medications prescribed to manage chronic conditions. Hormonal changes, sleep problems, stress, and recreational drug and alcohol use can also affect someone’s sex drive. (Read “Could a Health Issue Be Lowering Your Libido?” for more.)  

But a lower-than-normal interest in sex may also indicate an underlying emotional, relationship, or mental health issue. Research shows that low libido is associated with:

+ Depression

A hallmark sign of depression is losing interest in things you once enjoyed — and this includes sex. People with depression often experience low self-esteem, mood swings, and reduced energy levels, all of which can weaken sexual desire.

But depression also alters the brain’s neurotransmitters, or the chemical messengers that send signals throughout our body. With their sex-related messengers out of balance, a person with depression may lose sexual desire or experience dulled sensations during sex.

+ Anxiety 

Stress prompts the body’s fight-or-flight response. This natural instinct diverts your body’s resources to “essential” functions like heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, away from those considered “non-essential” — such as sex drive.

In general, once we overcome a stressor, systems return to normal working order. This includes both short-term triggers like a fight with a loved one and a long-term stressor like unemployment or injury. 

Anxiety is when stress persists even in the absence of a trigger. That means people with anxiety live day to day with their fight or flight reflex engaged, an effect that has an ongoing impact on their mood, sleep, general health, and libido.

+ Relationship problems

One of the strongest influencers of sexual intimacy is the state of someone’s relationship with their partner. Problems caused by mistrust, unresolved conflicts, incompatibilities, or other relationship-related factors can dim desire between two people. 

Also, everyone has their own level of sexual desire — and that desire fluctuates in different ways over time. A lack of communication about this difference can lead to issues like resentment or lowered self-esteem, deepening sexual dry spells between two people.

+ Poor body image

A recent survey showed that more than half of adults feel negative about their body most of the time — and research shows that how we feel about our body is an important factor when it comes to our interest in sex.

Poor body image can be related to low self-esteem. But it can also develop from physical changes someone experiences due to:

     • Surgery or a health condition

     • Pregnancy and childbirth

     • Menopause

     • A physical injury

     • Unintentional or unwanted changes in weight

Reviving Your Sexual Spark

It’s completely normal for someone’s sex drive to change throughout their life, Lasson explains. But when low sexual desire impacts our well-being, emotional health, or relationships — that’s when it becomes a problem that you might want to discuss with a healthcare professional. (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.)

Low libido isn’t usually a medical condition itself; it is more often a sign of something else. The right treatment depends on the root issues, which may include:

     • Medical issues like chronic diseases, medications, or hormonal imbalances

     • Lifestyle behaviors like sleeping problems or drug or alcohol use

     • Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem

     • Emotional challenges like problems in your relationship

If you’re struggling to restore your sex drive, reach out to our team at Carbon Health to connect with a compassionate healthcare expert who can help reach your health goals.

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.

Carbon Health Editorial Team

The Carbon Health Editorial Team is a group of writers, content creators, and thought leaders who are here to empower you to take charge of your health.