8 Medical Reasons for Your Low Sex Drive, from Doctors
What happened to your sex drive?
You remember those days when sex seemed irresistible…so what’s happened since then? Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, says relationship issues are the most common reason for low desire. In particular, Dr. Hutcherson says: “If you feel unappreciated and taken for granted, or if there is a lack of intimacy or loving feeling in your relationship, you’re not very likely to desire sex,” she explains. “I tell my patients that if they hate their partner, there is no amount of any drug that will make them desire to have sex with them.”
But if all is well and good in your relationship, one of these medical causes for low sex drive could be to blame.
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You’re sacrificing sleep
Cutting into your eight hours leads to more than a caffeine craving. In a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found that women who slept more on a given night were more sexually aroused the next day. In fact, each additional hour of sleep increased the likelihood of next-day nookie by 14 percent.
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You’re consuming too many chemicals
In a study from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, researchers found that women who had the highest levels of a chemical called phthalates in their urine were two and a half times more likely to report low sexual desire.
Previous research has found that phthalates affect the endocrine system in men, but this study revealed that these chemicals also impact hormones in women—specifically estrogen and testosterone, which power your libido. The researchers focused mainly on a type of phthalates found in food—namely processed food and pesticides—but the chemicals are also found in a ton of everyday products (they make plastic bendy, so everything from yoga mats to shower curtains). So that low sex drive may be a good reminder to work on lowering your exposure. Eat fewer processed foods and be mindful of how much plastic you purchase and use.
Women with depression report more inhibited arousal, more inhibited orgasm, more pain during sex, and less sexual satisfaction and pleasure than women who haven’t been diagnosed with depression, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin. What’s more, many of the meds prescribed for depression and anxiety can decrease desire, says Helana Pietragallo, MD, an ob-gyn at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
Specifically, tricyclic antidepressants were more likely to influence females’ romantic feelings, found a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, whereas selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—the other commonly prescribed type of antidepressant—were more likely to affect guys.
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You’re going through menopause
More than half of postmenopausal women report low sexual desire, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. “As a woman ages, her hormones estrogen and testosterone decrease and these hormones are linked to desire,” says Dr. Hutcherson. Plus, says Colin MacNeill, MD, an ob-gyn at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, many women experience vaginal dryness with menopause, which can lead to more painful intercourse. This, of course, can suppress your desire—often without your even realizing it.
You strive for perfection
Women who feel their partner expects perfectionism from them are more likely to suffer sexual dysfunction, according to a British study in recent years. Why? Because the pressure from their partner decreases their sexual esteem and increases sexual anxiety—talk about a mood killer!
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You’re on deadline (again)
“To experience desire, women need to be relaxed and able to focus on pleasure,” Dr. Hutcherson explains. “We take care of everyone else before ourselves, so women are easily distracted and concerned by life stressors, making it difficult to think about sex.”
And stressful times may take more of a toll on you than him: research from the Kinsey Institute found women were less likely to easily get in the mood when they were anxious or stressed, compared to men.
The good news? If this is the culprit, you’ll probably see a jump in your sex drive once the stress passes and you catch up on sleep, Dr. MacNeill says.
You started a new medication
“Medications can alter various hormone levels which, in turn, decrease libido,” says Dr. Pietragallo. Many meds used to treat chronic medical problems, as well as birth control pills and antidepressants, can all decrease your desire and even decrease the chance a woman will experience an orgasm. Yikes!
If you notice a change in sex drive as a result of starting a new medication, don’t be embarrassed to bring it up to your doctor.
Some pregnant people report a spike in sex drive; while for other pregnant women, getting intimate isn’t all that appealing. And, an expectant parent can experience both in the course of their pregnancy.
In many cases, sex drive can ebb and flow all nine months long, depending on factors like nausea (often caused by high levels of progesterone) or general physical discomfort. If you’re pregnant and not so into sex, rest assured it’s probably normal. “Sexual desire can decrease during pregnancy, postpartum, and while breastfeeding due to hormonal changes, like increased prolactin,” says Dr. Hutcherson.
Plus, it’s pretty much a guarantee that post-baby—as well as when you’re pregnant—your body is plagued by fatigue, which zaps you of the energy to get aroused.
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