A reduced sex drive or low libido is a common condition that can affect both men and women at some point in their life. It is common to have a reduced or fluctuating sex drive due to age, hormonal changes, and stress. But this could be of concern if it causes distress, leads to anxiety about your relationship, or affects your overall well-being.

Low libido may seem like a sexual problem, but if it persists for a longer duration (more than six months) it may indicate an underlying cause, such as diabetes or depression.

Let us have a look at the causes of low sex drive in both men and women, its symptoms, and management.

What Is Low Libido?

Sex drive can be different for everyone. So, when do we say that a person has a low libido?

Low libido is a persistent problem with your sex drive that causes distress or affects your relationship with your current partner. The stress and relationship problem is the key to diagnose low libido.

Common Causes for Low Sex Drive 

Here are some common causes of low sex drive in both men and women

Psychological and Emotional Factors

Various psychological and emotional factors can affect your desire for sex.

Some conditions are:

  • Depression
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Prior sexual abuse

Besides, the following relationship problems can also lower your sex drive.

  • Frequent unresolved conflicts
  • Lack of trust
  • Poor communication
  • Lack of attraction

Health conditions

Some long-standing conditions that may influence your sex drive are:

  • Osteoarthritis: If you experience joint stiffness or pain, it may be difficult for you to indulge in sexual activities.
  • Diabetes:  Poorly managed blood sugar levels may damage your blood vessels and nerves. This can reduce blood flow to the genitals in women and cause erectile dysfunction in men. Besides, women with diabetes are at greater risk of bladder or fungal infections, making sex uncomfortable or painful.
  • High blood pressure: Hypertension can also alter blood circulation to the genitals, resulting in low sex drive.
  • Heart disorders: Heart conditions can damage your blood vessels and decrease your circulation. This can again reduce blood flow to your genitals, decreasing arousal and sex drive.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: It is a condition where your throat muscles intermittently relax or contract your airways, resulting in disturbed sleep and snoring. Studies have suggested that unattended obstructive sleep apnea can cause low libido.
  • Cancer: Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, may negatively influence your sex drive.
  • Sexual problems: Certain sexual conditions such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, an inability to orgasm, and painful sex can cause low libido.
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Medicines

Some medications can lower your sexual desire or cause sexual dysfunction, including:

  • Antipsychotics that increase prolactin levels
  • Hormonal contraceptives
  • Antidepressants with serotonergic effects
  • Medications for high blood pressure
  • Medicines used to manage an enlarged prostate
  • Excessive alcohol consumption or recreational drug use

In Women

  • Menopause: Low estrogen levels during menopause is a primary contributor to sexual problems associated with menopause. It can cause dryness and thinning of the vagina, which can result in discomfort and pain during sexual intercourse. Women may associate the feelings of pain and discomfort with pain and thus have no or little interest in sex. Menopause also causes testosterone levels to drop, which may result in low libido.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy can influence the woman’s sex drive. However, these changes may affect all females differently. While some women may have a high libido, others may have reduced libido.

In Men

Testosterone, a male hormone produced in the testicles, is responsible for various body characteristics and processes, including muscle mass, bone health, facial hair, sperm production, and sex drive,

Low testosterone may thus result in erectile dysfunction and enlarged breasts. Chemotherapy or radiation, testicular trauma, certain medicines, steroid use, and long-standing health conditions can contribute to low testosterone levels.

Symptoms

As discussed earlier, there is no magic number to define low sex drive. Symptoms that may indicate a low sex drive are:

  • A very few or no sexual thoughts or fantasies
  • Lack of interest in any type of sexual activity, including masturbation
  • Being stressed or concerned by your lack of sexual fantasies or activity
  • Distress that creates problems in your relationship
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Diagnosis

If a low sex drive is causing a significant effect on your life, it is best to consult a doctor. It may also be a cause of additional stress for such people, affecting their physical and mental health.

Some signs that may indicate the need to speak to a doctor include:

  • Social isolation, stress, or poor self-esteem resulting in a decreased quality of life
  • Strained relationship
  • No improvement after trying various ways to improve libido

Talking about your sex drive could be embarrassing, but it is essential to find out the cause and manage it accordingly. Your doctor will ask about your problem in detail. They will ask you about your sexual desire, fantasies, and if lack of sexual drive is causing personal distress.

Your doctor may also run a physical check to look for signs of physical disorders causing low sexual desire such as vaginal dryness, thinning of genital tissues, or pain-triggering spots in women. For men, it may include examining the testis, penis, and prostate.

They may also advise blood tests to determine the underlying problems such as high cholesterol, hormonal levels, thyroid problems, liver disorders, and diabetes.

Your doctor may also refer to a specialist, which can be a sex therapist or a specialized counselor, to resolve relationship and emotional factors responsible for low libido.

Treatment

The management of low libido, in both men and women, ideally depends on the cause of the problem.

For instance, your doctor may change a medicine responsible for sex-related adverse effects or reduce your libido with a medication that does not have sexual side effects.

Research has shown that counseling or sex therapy can help. It helps people improve their self-esteem, deal with trauma, and improve their bond and relationship with their partner. It is also seen that mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may benefit people with low sex drive.

All these therapies help you focus on pleasure and reduce negative sex-related thoughts.

Lifestyle Modifications

You can do the following to improve sexual health:

  • Regular exercise helps improve your stamina, mood, body image and boosts libido.
  • Manage stress level through yoga or meditation.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Try and communicate openly with your partner. This will help to improve emotional connection, leading to better sex.
  • Set time for cuddling and intimacy.
  • Add spice to your sex life by trying different sex positions or a different location for sex. You can tell your partner to spend more time in foreplay. You can also experiment with fantasy and sex toys to rekindle your sexual desire.
  • Ditch bad habits of smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and illegal drugs
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Hormonal therapy

Women

Your physician may prescribe estrogen therapy if hormonal problems or menopause are factors causing low libido. It is available in various forms, including patches, gels, pills, and sprays. A smaller dose is present in a slow-releasing ring or suppository and vaginal creams. You can discuss the pros and cons of each form with your doctor.

Men

If your low sex drive is due to low testosterone levels, the doctor may advise testosterone therapy.

Testosterone is available in many forms, including:

  • Transdermal gel
  • Transdermal cream
  • Nasal gel
  • Transdermal solution
  • Transdermal patch
  • Oral tablet
  • Oral capsule
  • Pellet implant
  • Solution for intramuscular injection
  • Topical gel

However, the therapy comes with risks. Testosterone is seen to increase the risk of stroke or heart attack. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises testosterone only in men who have lower testosterone levels due to an underlying health condition.

Some common side effects of testosterone are:

  • Male breasts
  • Swelling due to fluid retention
  • Sleep apnea
  • Acne
  • Prostate growth
  • Moodiness

Final Thoughts

Low libido is a common condition in both men and women and maybe an indicator of an underlying cause.

Treatment of low sex drive depends on the cause. For instance, if the medicine is responsible for the low sex drive, switching it to one without any sexual side-effects may help. If a psychological cause is responsible, you may need sex or relationship counseling.

You can also make lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthier diet, being active, and practicing stress management to improve your sex drive.

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