Are you wondering whether your sex drive is low? And whether there's anything you can do about that?
Well, sister, you’re not alone…
Literally millions of women of all ages are struggling with concerns and questions about their libido. As a Functional Medicine physician specializing in Women’s Health, my job is to help you get to the root of the problem – and find solutions!
Is Your Libido Actually Low?
When a woman comes to me about low libido I first want to explore what is making her question the state of her sex drive. You see, a very savvy and profitable medical industry has sprung up around convincing women that our libido is low, then offering us the very drugs that will fix our problems! This idea is unwittingly reinforced by the oversexualization of women in the media at nearly every turn. So a lot of us think we have a problem that we really don’t have.
Actually, there is no definition of what constitutes “normal” libido, or how often you “should be” wanting to have sex. It’s up to YOU to decide what’s normal for YOU.
And there’s no connection between having a low sex drive – that is, not thinking and fantasizing about sex on a regular basis, and enjoying sex when you do have it. So if your level of sex drive isn’t bothering you, and it’s not getting in the way of enjoying sex or of your partner’s satisfaction in the relationship, then again, you may not have a problem at all!
Some women are completely happy with their level of sex drive, but their partner is complaining that they are not having sex enough. This is especially common with couples who have just had babies, couples in long-term relationships, and when women are close to their periods and just aren’t feeling too sexy. In these cases, discussing expectations and finding ways to meet each other’s needs can resolve the tension.
Yes It is Low, What Can I Do?
If you feel you have lost your previous level of desire, or it isn’t where you want it to be, here are some things I’d ask you if you were my patient:
- Has there been a recent change in your libido? When was it higher? What changed?
- Are you having any medical symptoms, for example, fatigue, dry skin, or weight gain that might indicate an underlying problem?
- What’s going on in your personal life: A new baby? Caring for an elderly relative? Trouble with children? Work stress? Other stressors?
- What do you believe might be contributing to this decrease in your sex drive?
- And perhaps most importantly, how is your relationship with your partner?
Causes of Low Libido
Libido is profoundly influenced by our sense of personal well-being, our physical health, our hormones, stress levels, and our relationship happiness, and is less commonly caused by an actual medical problem. However, there are some common medical causes of low sex drive that are important to “rule out” just to make sure your core health is ok. These include:
- Hormonal problems, especially low estrogen and low testosterone (yes, in women)
- Medications (especially hormonal birth control, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and beta-blockers, though many others can affect libido)
- Alcohol use
- Having other medical problems (i.e., diabetes)
- Vaginal or pelvic pain, burning, irritation, or vaginal spasms can dampen libido due to negative anticipation, but none of these are insurmountable with supportive treatment!
- Surgeries that affect nerve sensation in the pelvis or vagina, such as a prior hysterectomy
Hormones and Stress Affect Libido
Cyclic hormonal changes are major players in our libido. We are more biologically inclined to desire sex when we’re fertile. Like many women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, you might find that your desire for sex drops in the days leading up to, and during your period. This is a common response to dips in certain sex hormones in the second half of your menstrual cycle. If low libido starts more than a few days before your period and doesn’t rebound at the end of it, you might be experiencing some more profound hormone dips that you can sort out with some simple hormone testing and perhaps some foods, herbs, and supplements to help balance out your hormones.
New and breastfeeding moms often find that interest in sex is way down. This is due to a combination of hormonal changes, fatigue, and the sheer overwhelming demands of caring for a baby. If you’ve had a vaginal tear or episiotomy that needed repairing, you may also be worried about pain during sex. Thyroid problems can also reduce libido, and are common in the first year after giving birth. My book, Natural Health After Birth discusses sex after baby in detail; my forthcoming blog, Is There Sex After Baby, is going to be a huge help to you.
Libido varies widely during menopause and in the years leading up to it. Most women report a decrease in sex drive. A good bit of this may be due to hormonal changes, but long-term relationships and personal stressors can play a major role. Many women report a decrease in comfort during sex due to vaginal dryness, and over time, say that this interferes with drive. Loss of interest in and pleasure from sex are not inevitable functions of aging. Good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and ‘using it so you don’t lose it’ can all help you maintain an active, pleasurable sex life. And even if your drive is down, remember, your enjoying can be just as great. You might just need to remind your partner to help initiate the fun and games!
Happiness, Relationship Satisfaction, and Libido
Most problems with sex drive have nothing at all to do with a medical problem. Stress and relationship stuff rank highest as underlying causes for women. You see, we’re wired to connect. It’s generally that sense of connection to a partner – or someone you’re close to – that sparks up those juicy sexual desires, that feeling rising up in you that gets you wanting to get it on.
If you’re in a new relationship, just the thought or sight of your beloved might ignite juicy. spontaneous desire. Awesome.
If you’ve been with your partner for a long time, that spark may have – well – waned a bit with time and appearance changes and entrenched relationship issues. The good news is that studies show that for women in long-term relationships, desire is more likely to be triggered by your partner’s desire for you. So your libido may be lower, but once you get some incentive, you’re all systems go! This is great info to pass on to your partner!
Often, relationships just need some deep tending, though sometimes we have to admit when we’ve gone as far as we can and we have to do the hard work of ending a relationship that’s not working. But it’s amazing what you can do with dedicated attention to reinvigorate love and passion in a relationship – especially when both partners are willing and eager to try. This doesn’t always make it easy. Knowing this, however, and explaining to your partner that their desire for you is a real turn-on can be an icebreaker if things are getting chilly in your sexual relationship.
7 Tips for Rebooting Your Sex Drive
If you used to be much more interested in sex, have noticed a decline in your desire, and want to feel that spark and desire again, there are solutions!
- Work with an integrative physician, nurse practitioner, or naturopath who can help you sort out whether you have underlying medical, nutritional, and lifestyle imbalances that might be dampening your desire. Your care provider can also help you with treatments for vaginal dryness, pelvic or vaginal pain, and other physical obstacles to enjoying your sex life!
- Tend to stress with relaxation techniques, improved sleep, and necessary lifestyle changes.
- Deal with the side-effects of medications; Cease and desist on alcohol overconsumption (an occasional glass of red wine, however, can stimulate desire).
- Do at least 2 things every day to make yourself feel sexy! This is a sure fire way to fan your flame! This can be wearing slinky underwear (even if only you know about it), wearing red, treating yourself to a delicious sensual bath or…. you name it!
- Get into individual and/or relationship counseling, or work with a sex therapist. The Association of Sex Therapists, Educators, and Counselors is a respected organization. Their website will help you find a therapist in your community http://www.aasect.org/.
- Use foods, herbs, and supplements that safely enhance libido. Many of these work by supporting your nervous system or regulating your hormones. Herbal aphrodisiacs will be discussed in 7 Herbs to Spark Your Sex Drive. You can learn about sexual health ‘superfoods’ in 7 Foods for Sexual Health. Both of these are forthcoming articles on my website.
- Yoga poses can help stimulate your libido and enhance pelvic health. Exercise in general can invigorate your sexual energy.
Hormonal therapies such as testosterone and estrogen can be considered, however, these can have side effects so are usually reserved for when a little extra help is needed.
A healthy sex life is a really important part of overall health. But remember, there is no external measure of what counts as healthy sex drive. What counts is what is healthy and satisfying to YOU.