Libido (sex drive) is a person’s overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity. Libido is influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors. Biologically, the sex hormones and associated neurotransmitters that act upon the nucleus accumbens (primarily testosterone and dopamine, respectively) regulate libido in humans.
Social factors, such as work and family, and internal psychological factors, such as personality and stress, can affect libido. Libido can also be affected by medical conditions, medications, lifestyle and relationship issues, and age (e.g., puberty). A person who has extremely frequent or a suddenly increased sex drive may be experiencing hypersexuality, while the opposite condition is hyposexuality.
Sexual desires are often an important factor in the formation and maintenance of intimate relationships in humans. A lack or loss of sexual desire can adversely affect relationships. Changes in the sexual desires of any partner in a sexual relationship, if sustained and unresolved, may cause problems in the relationship.
The infidelity of a partner may be an indication that a partner’s changing sexual desires can no longer be satisfied within the current relationship. Problems can arise from disparity of sexual desires between partners, or poor communication between partners of sexual needs and preferences.
What Is Low Sexual Desire?
Contrary to popular belief, experts say frequency of sexual intercourse has nothing to do with sexual desire or satisfaction. “One of first things I do in speaking to women who come in with sexual concerns is let them know that there is no normal frequency or set of behaviors and things change with time,” says Jan Shifren, MD, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “If it’s working for them and/or their partner, there is no problem.”
But when a woman experiences a significant decrease in interest in sex that is having an effect on her life and is causing distress, then it’s considered a problem of low sexual desire or HSDD.
Kingsberg says that sexual desire is more than just an issue of low libido or sex drive. She says sexual drive is the biological component of desire, which is reflected as spontaneous sexual interest including sexual thoughts, erotic fantasies, and daydreams.
A wide range of illnesses, physical changes and medications can cause a low sex drive, including:
- Sexual problems. If you have pain during sex or can’t orgasm, it can reduce your desire for sex.
- Medical diseases. Many nonsexual diseases can affect sex drive, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and neurological diseases.
- Medications. Certain prescription drugs, especially antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are known to lower the sex drive.
- Lifestyle habits. A glass of wine may put you in the mood, but too much alcohol can affect your sex drive. The same is true of street drugs. Also, smoking decreases blood flow, which may dull arousal.
- Surgery. Any surgery related to your breasts or genital tract can affect your body image, sexual function and desire for sex.
- Fatigue. Exhaustion from caring for young children or aging parents can contribute to low sex drive. Fatigue from illness or surgery also can play a role in a low sex drive.
Your state of mind can affect your sexual desire. There are many psychological causes of low sex drive, including:
- Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
- Stress, such as financial stress or work stress
- Poor body image
- Low self-esteem
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Previous negative sexual experiences
- Improve relationship quality
Many people experience a lull in sexual desire and frequency at certain points in a relationship. This may occur after being with someone for a long time, or if a person perceives that things are not going well in their intimate relationships. Focusing on improving the relationship can increase each partner’s sex drive. This might involve:
- planning date nights
- doing activities together outside of the bedroom
- practicing open communication
- setting time aside for quality time with each other
- Focus on foreplay
Having better sexual experiences may increase a person’s desire for sex, thereby boosting their libido. In many cases, people can enhance their sexual experiences by spending more time on touching, kissing, using sex toys, and performing oral sex.
Some people call these actions outer course.
For women, foreplay may be especially important. According to some 2017 research, only around 18 percent of women orgasm from intercourse alone, while 33.6 percent of women report that stimulation of the clitoris is necessary for them to orgasm.
- Eat a nutritious diet
Following a nutritious diet can benefit people’s sex drive by promoting good circulation and heart health, and by removing specific foods that can decrease libido.
Metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease can affect physical sexual functioning. Also, polycystic ovarian syndrome can affect hormone levels, which may also disrupt libido.
Eating a diet rich in vegetables, low in sugar, and high in lean proteins can help prevent disorders that affect libido.
- Try herbal remedies
There is little research into how effective herbal remedies are at improving sexual function in males and females, though some people may find them beneficial.