Where did my libido go?
Like it or not – for most people, at least – the older we get, the less interested we are in sex. Remember those rampant urges that used to dominate your very existence when you were little more than a puddle of simmering hormones? Well if you’re 18 or older, welcome to the cold, hard light of day, where those urges – and the joy of satisfying them – start becoming more of a distant memory than a daily fun fest.
Low libido is another term for reduced sex drive. It’s a common problem, affecting many of us – men and women – at some point in our lives. We don’t really know exactly how many people experience it, since few of us see a doctor for sex drive problems. But here’s what we know about the numbers for loss of libido – also called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) – which is when you lose your sex drive completely:
- Research into loss of libido in men varies, though the influential Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders suggests up to 20% of men worldwide are affected.
- The same resource suggests anything between 26% and 43% of women experience loss of libido too.
If the multi-million dollar global sales of herbal aphrodisiacs are anything to go by, low libido is a fact many of us are painfully aware of. It’s as if the will is there but the body – and arguably the brain too – is no longer quite up to the job. So what’s going on exactly?
Hormones are often blamed for sex problems. So what do they have to do with a lacking libido? The answer is plenty.
Think back to the time when your sex drive was at its peak. It probably coincided with the time your hormone production was working overtime and then some – in other words, your teenage years.
Teen hormones are responsible for physical growth and sexual development, and they drive your emotions and sexual desires sky high (often into the realm of obsession). But what goes up must come down, and as you get older your body progressively produces fewer and fewer sex hormones (though you could argue that’s partly a good thing because nobody could sustain that level of horniness for an entire lifetime).
Men, for instance, start to produce noticeably lower levels of testosterone when they get to their forties and beyond (actually testosterone production slows down way before this, but the effect is minimal). Low testosterone for men doesn’t just mean a reduced sex drive, it can also create other problems such as difficulties getting or maintaining an erection and fertility issues such as a lower sperm count.
Women are affected too, thanks to fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause and menopause, with receding oestrogen levels causing a range of physical and emotional problems that can have a negative effect on sex drive. One study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, even found that women who experience more significant menopause symptoms are more likely to say their libido is lower.
Want to know more about menopause symptoms? Take a look at our guide to menopause signs.
Did you know? Many sexual health remedies are plant-based products called adaptogens that work to re-calibrate your system and maintain healthy hormone levels. This may explain why they’re considered so effective in increasing sexual desire.
How are you feeling generally?
Hormones aside, there are other things that can have an impact on sexual desire, most importantly your general health. When you think about how all your body systems are connected it makes perfect sense – if your wellbeing in one area is compromised, it shouldn’t be a surprise when your libido takes a knock too.
Long-term medical conditions, for instance, can affect your sex drive, including:
- Heart disease
- Underactive thyroid
- Depression and anxiety (low libido is actually a sign of depression, along with things like feeling low, hopelessness and having no pleasure in life)
Nutritional deficiencies can be libido destroyers too – directly and indirectly – which is why diet is such a crucial consideration if you want to maintain a decent sex drive throughout your adult years. A good, all-round balanced diet is the best place to start, but in particular make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin D, omega fatty acids, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, magnesium, zinc and iron.
All these nutrients can be helpful. Take omega fatty acids, for example. These help increase your body’s levels of the hormone dopamine, which is thought to help with sexual arousal. Omegas are also considered useful for maintaining moisture levels in mucous membranes – good news if you’re a perimenopausal or menopausal woman struggling with dryness (we’ll let you work out the specifics).
Did you know? Aphrodisiac foods such as chocolate and oysters may be popular, but there’s little evidence to suggest they actually work. One study, however, has found an apple a day improves sexual function in young women, while another claims a daily glass of pomegranate juice increases testosterone levels in both sexes.
Romance robbers: the best of the rest
Other things that can seriously damage your libido include:
- Stress (this affects your emotional wellbeing in general, plus studies suggest cortisol – a stress hormone – may interfere with sexual arousal)
- Relationship problems (trust issues, poor communication, loss of sexual attraction and overfamiliarity with your partner are examples of how relationships can kill sex drive)
- Overwork and chronic tiredness
- Drinking and drug-taking (both alcohol and drug misuse are linked to loss of libido)
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding (changing hormone levels are at play here too, as are body issue problems, exhaustion and childbirth injuries)
- Some medicines (reduced libido can be a side effect of certain prescription drugs including some types of hormonal contraception – check with your GP or pharmacist if you’re not sure)
- Sexual health problems (painful sex, erectile dysfunction and ejaculation problems, for instance)
All in all it’s a no-brainer, really. If you’re in good health you’re more likely to be horny, not to mention more likely to get the most out of romantic situations. If your lifestyle is less than healthy, it could explain why those libido-boost-promising herbal remedies you’ve tried haven’t exactly had the desired effect. Try sorting out your lifestyle – making sure you’re getting all your veggies for a start – then, if you like, give those herbals another shot (we recommend one of our science-backed sexual health supplements – read more about them here).