Managing a Low Sex Drive, and Understanding Low Libido

There’s no such thing as a normal sex drive or libido. But here are some steps you can take if you feel it’s lower than you want it to be

Last reviewed: 07 Jan 2019

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Contents of this article

It’s true that there’s no such thing as a 'normal sex drive’, or a level of libido that everyone should have.

Everyone will experience changes to their sex drive – times in their life when it’s lower, and times when it’s higher.

But, if you feel like your own sex drive is lower than you want it to be, that can be worrying.

Figuring out what your low libido means can help a lot, and finding some practical steps to take could help you feel comfortable with your sex drive again.

Do I have a low sex drive?

This is a difficult question to answer. Knowing whether your sex drive is low or not could depend on number of things:

  • What’s your sex drive usually like? It's normal for your sex drive to be lower than some other people you know. That doesn't necessarily mean something’s wrong
  • Are you thinking about sex less? Maybe you’re just less interested in sex at the moment. That’s normal, too
  • Or maybe you’re less interested in having sex than usual. People can often still get aroused, even when they’re less interested in sex. This drop in interest could be a general thing, or have to do with a specific person

How are low sex drive and sexual dysfunction different?

Low sex drive is a low desire to have sex, or take part in sexual activity.

Sexual dysfunction isn’t always to do with how much you want to have sex. It means that one or more things about sex are difficult for you. This could be desire or something else, like feeling physical pleasure, your preferences, getting aroused, or orgasming.

What can cause low sex drive?

A low sex drive can be caused by a number of different things. These might include:

Relationship issues:

  • Whether you’re happy and comfortable in your relationship, if you’re in one
  • Any worries about the relationship which may be affecting your sexual desire with your partner
  • Any physical sexual issues between you
  • Mental and emotional wellbeing:
  • Serious conditions like depression can affect a lot of different aspects of life. Sexual desire is included in this
  • Symptoms of depression can include a prolonged feeling of severe sadness, feeling down, and a loss of interest in activities you’ve enjoyed before
  • Feeling stressed or tired
  • Surgery that’s impacted your emotional wellbeing or self confidence
  • Any struggles with body image
  • Wanting to focus more on looking after a baby

Physical wellbeing:

  • Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or hypothyroidism
  • Taking medication like antidepressants, antipsychotics, or the contraceptive pill
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery that’s made sex difficult or painful
  • Drinking too much alcohol or taking recreational drugs over a long period of time
  • Issues like erectile dysfunction, an inability to orgasm, or painful sex can all contribute to a lack of sex drive
  • Pregnancy
  • Injuries suffered during childbirth, like rips or tears. These can make sex painful
  • Changes in hormones
  • Getting older can affect our sex drive as sex hormone levels decrease
  • Experiencing the menopause
  • Other health problems or medication

Don't be misled by the media. The film and TV industries often give unrealistic ideas about sex and relationships, which can affect what we think of as 'normal'. These ideas often don’t help us feel healthy about our own sex drive and interests.

And try not to pretend to yourself that it’s because you’re tired. Even if this is true for some of the time, pretending that a low sex drive is because of tiredness won’t help you in the long run, if you know that really there are other reasons for it. Talking to a GP or other health professional could help you take steps forward.

What does it mean if I can’t get erections?

Not being able to get an erection may be a one-off thing, and may not mean much at all. It can happen for any number of reasons, like stress, tiredness, or having had too much alcohol.

Not being able to get erections on a regular basis, or not being able to keep them, may mean that you have erectile dysfunction (ED).

ED and low sex drive in men can be linked. But not getting erections doesn't mean you definitely have a low sex drive.

If you can't get erections when you want to, that’s something you might be able to fix with treatment. ED treatments won't raise your sex drive, but they’ll make it easier to get and keep an erection when you're aroused.

Is low sex drive a health problem?

No, not in itself. But low sex drive could have a negative impact on your mental health, or on your relationship(s). For that reason, it’s often a good idea to seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Low sex drive can be a sign of other health conditions. These can include diabetes, heart disease, or hypothyroidism.

It can also be a sign of depression. Mental health issues like depression can have a big impact on sex drive. Speaking to a doctor, and getting treatment if you need it, could help address the depression itself, as well as its impact on your sex drive.

How can I increase my sex drive?

Medical treatments:

  • Sex therapy is often a recommended treatment. Your GP can refer you for this if they think it's right for you
  • If your low sex drive is related to another health condition, e.g. diabetes or low testosterone, it can help to treat these conditions, or make sure they’re well controlled
  • Natural aphrodisiacs aren’t reliable. A review done in 2010 found that there’s little evidence to suggest that natural aphrodisiacs are a good way of improving sexual desire or performance, for both men and women

Lifestyle changes:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Giving up recreational drugs
  • Cutting down on alcohol
  • Getting more exercise

De-stressing:

  • Any aspect of life that causes you a lot of stress can have an effect on your sexual desire
  • Noticing this and taking steps to de-stress could help
  • Work life and home life can both play a part in this

'Sex pills'

Be very careful with pills advertised online that claim to increase your sex drive. These pills won’t change your libido. And in the worst case, they could contain unsafe and unregulated ingredients that are harmful to your health

Is my relationship affecting my sex drive?

Not necessarily. Having a low sex drive can be caused by a lot of things that aren’t to do with your relationship, so it's important not to jump to conclusions. But, it's a possibility.

How can I tell if my relationship is a factor?

Your low sex drive might be specific to your relationship if you feel:

  • normal sexual desire when you’re not with your partner. This could be when you’re alone, or with people other than your partner
  • low sexual desire when trying to have sex with your partner, on a regular basis

Can I increase my sex drive towards my partner?

If you feel unhappy, uncomfortable, or unsafe with your partner, or with aspects of your relationship, this may stop you feeling arousal towards them.

Talking through your concerns with your partner may help to identify the issues which are affecting your relationship. Couples’ counselling may also be an option for you.

dr-kathryn-basford.png

Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with Zava. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.

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Last reviewed: 07 Jan 2019

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