Found yourself lacking in the sex drive department? Just don’t fancy ‘it’ as much as you used to? Don’t worry, loss of libido is a common problem, affecting lots of men and women at some point in their lives.
Sex drive is different for everybody and everyone has their own unique libido that peaks and dips throughout their life.
Some people have very little sex drive to begin with – which is totally fine! What’s not fine is when your lack of sex drive starts having repercussions on your mental health and general wellbeing.
There are many potential factors that could be messing with your natural sex drive: from relationship issues and stress, to underlying medical conditions and a lack of hormonal activity. Or, your lack of sex drive could be completely normal.
Keep reading to find out all about sex drive, and what may be standing in-between you and a healthy, enjoyable sex life.
What does sex drive mean?
Think of sex drive as a spectrum: on one end there is someone with no sexual desire whatsoever and on the other end you have someone with sex on the brain 24/7. These are extreme examples though, and most of us will sit somewhere between the two on the scale.
What is a normal sex drive?
Normal sex drive is not a thing. There is no universal ‘normal’ when it comes to how often we would like to have sex. Some people may want to have sex every day and others may be happy with a monthly treat – both are normal!
What is a high sex drive? And what is considered a high sex drive for a woman?
Determining if you have a ‘high’ sex drive can be difficult as there is no set ‘normal’ sex drive due to everyone’s differences, male or female. You shouldn’t necessarily worry about wanting to have a lot of sex, as this could be very normal for you.
However, if you feel like your sexual behaviour is getting out of control and you have sexual compulsions, e.g. feeling dependent on sex, not feeling fulfilled with any other activity or using sex to escape problems, then you could benefit from seeking help.
Relate is an NHS-approved charity that could help.
Is sex drive different in men and women?
A lot of us are led to believe that men always want sex more than women due to their sexual makeup. This is simply not true. Yes, hormones often have a big part to play in how much sex you want, but they’re certainly not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to sex drive.
That being said, multiple studies have shown that the male sex drive is stronger than that of women.1,2 However, it is predicted that social and psychological factors come into this more than we are led to believe, and these areas need to be researched further.
Why have I lost my sex drive?
There are lots of reasons why your sex drive may have lowered or disappeared completely, here are 9 of the most common reasons why you may be lacking sex drive
9 reasons why you may have lost sex drive
1. Relationship issues
Trouble in paradise? Your sex life may be a good indicator of whether you are happy or not in your current sexual relationship. Now, this doesn’t mean that because your sex life is lacking you should kick your current partner to the curb! See it more as an investigative journey to see if it’s something you can fix together.
A low sex drive can be the result of:
- Loss of attraction: whether it’s mental or physical, simply not fancying your partner anymore could be what’s putting a dampener on your sex life.
- Long-term relationships: the honeymoon period may have been sex crazy, but that rarely lasts. As couples become more and more familiar with each other, sex drive can naturally start to lower.
- Poor communication: remember, it takes two to tango, so check in with your partner about anything that is concerning you and communicate, communicate, communicate if you want a better sex life.
- Arguing all the time: unresolved conflicts and frequent arguments are not usually a big turn on! So, it makes sense that if you are fighting a lot then you won’t want to have sex as much.
- Trust issues: trust is a big part of anybody’s sex life as it can make people feel very vulnerable. If somebody has betrayed our trust, e.g. had affairs, lied about different things, then it can also have a negative impact on the sex life of both parties.
2. Physical sexual problems
Any physical problem that causes sex to be unfulfilling or difficult can have an impact on your sex drive. Examples of this include:3
- Erectile dysfunction: not being able to get or sustain an erection can make sex difficult and embarrassing.
- Vaginal dryness: this can sex more difficult and not as enjoyable unless you use additional lubrication
- Problems ejaculating: the 3 main ejaculation problems are: premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation or retrograde ejaculation, all of which can have a detrimental effect on sex drive.
- Painful sex: pain during sex can be caused by a lot of things, like illness, infections, physical problems or psychological problems – painful sex could be your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, so don’t ignore it.4
- Not being able to orgasm: if a man or woman can’t orgasm then they can feel unfulfilled and not as excited by sex.
- Vaginismus: the involuntary tightening of the vagina can make sex feel painful and have obvious repercussions for your sex drive.
If you are experiencing any of these problems, please contact your GP.
3. Anxiety, stress and fatigue
Anxiety, stress and exhaustion/fatigue can often have a big impact on your life, including your happiness and sex drive.
One study on chronic stress and sexual function in women found that high levels of chronic stress were linked to lower levels of physical sexual arousal and more distraction when women were shown an erotic film.5
Anxiety can also make it hard to get sexually aroused. One reason for this is that anxiety may cause the body to become more physically tense, cause women to find arousal difficult and sometimes even make sex painful.6
I’m sure we all already know about the effect exhaustion/fatigue can have on sex drive too! If you’re tired, sleep and rest tend to be higher up on the ‘to-do’ list.
Your GP will always be best to advise and help you with these conditions, so please go to see them. Here is some advice that could be useful in the meantime:
Depression can negatively affect most parts of our lives, so it only makes sense that it could interfere with our libido too. In fact, low sex drive is a symptom of depression, as well as:7
- Having no pleasure or interest in doing things you used to enjoy
- Feeling hopeless and low
- Extreme sadness that won’t go away
One study found that depressed men who were treated with anti-depressant medication found that there was an improvement in depression symptoms and overall satisfaction with their sex life.8
However, it’s worth noting that antidepressants may also cause a low sex drive.9 Please visit your GP if you think you may be depressed as it can be a very serious and complex issue, with varying effects on sex drive.
The following article may help in the meantime: What is depression?
5. Ageing and the menopause sex drive
Losing your sex drive as you age is very common for both men and women, but it is not an inevitable part of getting older. Here are some of the potential reasons why.
- Mobility problems and other age-related health problems
- Lower levels of the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone in women before the menopause, during and after
- Lower levels of the sex hormone testosterone in men
- Side effects of medication
Your GP is your best bet if you want to investigate these issues. They can arrange a blood test to check hormone levels and potentially recommend hormone treatments (like HRT – hormone replacement therapy) if you discover low hormones could be to blame for your lack of libido.
6. Being pregnant, giving birth and breastfeeding
Pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding after can, understandably, have a huge physical and mental toll on a woman, especially when it comes to sex. This can be due to:10
- Painful sex caused by cuts or tears in childbirth
- Changes to your hormone levels
- Body changes and poor body image
- Priority changes, e.g. focusing on childcare
- Partners not being supportive
On the flip side, being pregnant can also increase your sex drive!11 As we keep on saying, sex drive is different for everyone.
You do not need to worry about losing your sex drive during these times. Partners should understand this too and should never pressure you for sex or make you feel bad about it.
Please go and see a GP if these issues don’t improve over time, and your libido doesn’t start to come back after things have settled down and you’d like to get it back on track.
7. Underlying health issues
A lot of medical conditions can contribute to a lowered libido, whether is it the emotional strain it has on you, any physical symptoms or side effects of treatments. Here’s a few conditions that can be associated with a lower libido:
- Major surgery, e.g. a hysterectomy (removal of the womb)
- Heat disease
- Underactive thyroid, the thyroid gland failing to produce enough hormones
If you have any of these conditions, or any other condition, and think it may be contributing to your low sex drive, please seek the advice of your GP or a specialist.
8. Alcohol and drugs
Although having a few drinks on a night out can get people feeling a little friskier and more confident in bed, it can also have some quite un-sexy side effects, including:12
- Erection problems: alcohol can mess with the messengers in the brain that engorge the penis with blood. It can also lower testosterone production.
- Difficulty orgasming: after a heavy drinking session, women tend to find it hard to orgasm and if they do manage to, they often feel less intense. Men may also find it hard to orgasm or end up ejaculating too quickly.
If you drink excessively over a long period of time, your sex drive can take a serious hit, which may be due to it affecting testosterone levels.13
A study of 100 men in India found that sexual dysfunction is common in patients with alcohol dependence.14
Drug abuse can also cause a loss of sex drive.15
Please speak to your GP if you are having problems with drugs or alcohol, there is help out there for you.
You may also like to look at: A complete guide to alcohol
9. Contraception and other medication
Hormonal contraception can affect your sex drive, like:16
- Combined hormonal contraception pill, ring or patch
- Progesterone-only contraceptive pill
- Contraceptive injection
- Contraceptive implant.
A large narrative review on literature regarding the impact hormonal contraceptives play in female sexual function concluded that hormonal contraception can cause women to struggle to get aroused.
However, the researchers also said that female sexuality is so multi-faceted that it is hard to ‘blame’ just one thing, like hormonal contraception, especially when female contraception is so important for women’s health.17
Check the label of your medicines to see if low libido is a potential side effect or not. Either way, discussing it with your GP will probably be able to help as they may be able to give you different medication.
I’ve lost my sex drive, what shall I do?
There are a few things you could try at home while you’re waiting for your GP appointment if you have a low sex drive.
Lifestyle changes that may promote a healthy sex drive include:
- Eating a healthy balanced diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Stop smoking
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Always communicate with your partner
- Make time to relax and de-stress
- Spice it up a little with sex toys, lingerie and lubricants
Sex drive foods that may promote a healthy libido include:
- Fenugreek: this herb could help your body produce sex hormones18
- Saffron: this tasty spice could help arousal, especially for people on antidepressants19
- Oysters: we’re sure you’ve heard of this one! Animal studies have found that oysters can help increase libido20
- Nuts: may help increase male libido21
Sex drive supplements that may promote a healthy sex drive include:
- Tribulus: this plant could help increase sexual pleasure, satisfaction and desire22
- Maca: this vegetable could help increase libido23
- Ginseng: may increase sexual desire24
- Gingko biloba: this popular herbal supplement can support blood flow, which may help erections and sexual arousal25
- L-citrulline: this amino acid can also help blood flow26
- Horny goat weed: this aptly-named herb may help increase blood flow too27
Last updated: 8 January 2020
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
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