This article is reviewed by a team of registered dietitians and medical doctors with extensive, practical clinical and public health experience.
Low Libido: Common Causes & How To Cure It?
At some point in their lives, many men and women will face a lowered libido—also known as decreased sex drive. As reported by the University of British Columbia, “Low sexual desire is the most common sexual complaint in women…,” although low libido is also seen in men. It’s a condition with many potential causes that can vary significantly from person to person. There are just as likely psychological causes of low libido as there are physical ones, with a few examples being stress, PTSD, body image, and anxiety. Whether through testosterone-boosting supplements or improved diet and exercise, the key to treating this condition is first to determine the correct cause and then address it directly.
Can You Cure Low Libido?
When causes are correctly identified, a low libido can be restored to normal levels in men and women. According to the urology department at the University of California, San Francisco, if the reduction in libido results from another physical condition such as diabetes or obesity, treating the underlying condition can often lead to a restored sex drive.
Sometimes medications can create the conditions for low libido, either physiological or psychological; altering prescriptions often remedies the situation in these cases. And many times, reduced testosterone levels are the culprit, and a simple blood test can determine this. If so, this can then be remedied by testosterone supplementation, through the guidance of a physician for maximum results.
What Are Symptoms of Low Libido?
Though the main symptom of low libido is reduced sexual drive, the impact can manifest in other telltale signs as well. Beyond losing the desire for physical intimacy, a loss of interest in sex can also mean a lack of sexual thoughts or fantasies or disinterest in social interactions like dating.
A lower-than-normal libido is often a sign of a general lack of energy, so it is something that extends beyond sexual activity. Sometimes, these symptoms indicate a more complex physical or psychological issue that needs resolving. Determining all the factors that negatively affect your sex drive can start you on the road to recovery.
What Can Cause Low Libido?
Prescription medication is often the bad actor when it comes to low libido. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and treatments for high blood pressure can cause male erectile dysfunction and female sexual dysfunction. They can also alter mood or your brain’s neurotransmitters such that desire decreases. Medications that lower your cholesterol can also inhibit your sex drive. Though all of these are necessary to control other conditions, the unfortunate side effects can leave you wondering what happened to your desire for intimacy. It’s important to recognize this early on when working to determine the cause of your reduced sexual desire.
Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and painful sex can all impact sexual function and result in low libido. A poor diet, physical fatigue due to lack of sleep or poor sleep habits, or overwork can also be caused, as can chronic illness or pain. Sometimes these factors result in psychological stress that worsens the situation and adds a mental health aspect to the suite of symptoms, which then can progress into a vicious cycle. There’s also the possibility of hormonal imbalances, such as a drop in testosterone levels, which can impact libido levels in both men and women. (Both women and men have testosterone, although it is called “the male hormone” only because men have so much more; however, it is a fully functioning hormone in women, too.)
Abuse or Trauma
Victims of physical or sexual abuse can experience a severe reduction in libido for both physical and psychological reasons. Physically, individuals who experience severe trauma may undergo a loss of libido due to pain with sex or even from the anticipation of pain. Psychologically, there may be a PTSD syndrome from the abuse. In both instances, a combination of physiological and psychological stressors typically work additively to impact the desire for intimacy, even if the abuse or trauma wasn’t sexual in nature. Stress can continue long after the original event is over. The impact of these detrimental effects may take a long-lasting toll on the victim’s libido.
Drugs and Alcohol
These are notorious libido killers and should be considered an easily identifiable cause when determining the cause for low libido. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which can diminish your libido and lead to reduced sexual desire; even when there is desire, sexual performance will suffer. Both prescribed and illicit drugs can have a similar impact, and the combination of drugs and alcohol tends to compound the problem beyond the mere addition of the two. Drug and alcohol use can also be a coping mechanism for masking a greater issue, causing a reduction in sexual interest as collateral damage. The combined effect of stress and chemical consumption can make it challenging to identify the real cause of low libido.
Depression and Anxiety
Although most people picture the mechanical act of sex as the major part of sexual enjoyment, because desire, intimacy, and affection begin in the brain, mental health plays a necessary part in sexual enjoyment. When depression or anxiety set in, they can have a chilling effect on the libidos of both men and women. The generalized forms of these conditions are known causes of low libido, though less severe forms can also be problematic. This can stem from poor body image, low self-esteem, general malaise, or mental fatigue. Anything that removes you mentally from the enjoyment of sex can have the impact of lowering your libido, sometimes without you even realizing it–even bills or other worries.
How Can You Boost Your Libido?
Check any prescription medications you take to determine the side effects; consult with your physician if low libido is on the list. Many times, there’s an alternate version you can try to see if the effects are alleviated. If you take several medications on an ongoing basis for chronic illnesses, the combined effect could be the real issue. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as separating dosages or spacing them out differently during the day to avoid the negative impact. Always check with your doctor before altering your medication regimen in any way.
Studies have proven that increased physical activity can boost your testosterone levels naturally and elevate your sex drive. It can also increase your “joy” chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, which will help improve your mood and your overall mental health. Simple changes like this can have a tremendous impact on restoring your libido without much trouble. It will also increase your physical fitness, which helps with self-esteem and body image. Both of these can assist in returning your interest in sexual activity to levels you’ve enjoyed previously. Recently, the concept of the brain-body interaction (i.e., they both enhance each other) has been identified that supports these positive relationships.
Improving what you eat is a powerful tool for solving many physical conditions, and raising a lowered libido is no exception. A reduced-cholesterol diet that includes clean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential for general physical and sexual health. Not only does a nutritious diet help your circulation and your mental state, but it also provides phytonutrients that support balanced hormones for improved sexual health. Specifically, foods like fish, spinach, eggs, and shellfish contain vitamins and minerals with testosterone-boosting properties that can help restore your waning sex drive to its former power.
Sometimes, exercise and nutrition aren’t enough to elevate your libido. If low testosterone levels are the problem, raising them without professional supplementation can be difficult. In these instances, testosterone supplements for both men and women can be of tremendous help. Your physician can test your levels and determine the course of treatment for you. In addition to restoring your sex drive, testosterone supplements can be invaluable in raising your energy and sense of well-being, which can help you enjoy your newly increased libido even more.
If the root cause of low libido is psychological in nature, working with a counselor may be the only way to overcome the condition. Determining the source of mental stress can be liberating and start the process of returning your libido to normal levels. Sometimes the problem is more complicated; in instances of abuse, the issue may be related directly to sex and sexual activity, or indirectly to pain or painful memories. A sexual health specialist can be instrumental in talking you through the issues in these circumstances. These experts will help you understand the underlying causes and prescribe medication or behavioral changes that can help you address them.
No matter what the cause might be, a lowered libido can take you by surprise. It can be the beginning of a suite of other issues or the result of them. Determining the cause is key to understanding what’s needed to restore your decreased sexual desire. Though it may be embarrassing or a source of anxiety for you, it’s worth seeking professional guidance to help you find a workable solution, even if it takes a little time. With medical, psychological, and lifestyle changes, your low libido can be restored to a level that makes you happy. We are all sexual creatures, and it is part of the quality of life you deserve.
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- Brotto, L.A. (2017). Evidence-based treatments for low sexual desire in women. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, [online] 45, pp.11–17. Available at: https://med-fom-brotto.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2014/11/Brotto-2017-Evidenced-based-treatments-for-low-sexual-desire-in-women-4743.pdf.
- UCSF Department of Urology. (2022). Decreased Libido. [online] Available at: https://urology.ucsf.edu/patient-care/adult-non-cancer/male-sexual-and-reproductive-health/decreased-libido#.YiYQjDhBzIV
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