Low libido, or reduced sexual desire, can affect both men and women. It is not unusual for a person's interest in sex to fluctuate over different periods of their life due to hormonal changes, age, and stress.
Low libido can have an underlying medical cause, or it may be due to lifestyle factors. In this article, we explore the causes of low libido in men and women, the potential treatments, and when to speak with a doctor.
Causes of low libido in males and females include:
Several chronic illnesses and diseases can affect sexual function. These include:
- Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can cause vascular and nerve damage. These effects can result in erectile dysfunction in men and decreased blood flow to the genitals in women. Women with diabetes may also experience higher rates of yeast and bladder infections, which can make sex painful or uncomfortable.
- Osteoarthritis: People who experience joint pain and stiffness might find it more difficult to participate in sexual activities.
- Heart disease: Heart disease can lead to damaged blood vessels and decreased circulation. This damage can reduce blood flow to the genitals, decreasing arousal or lubrication.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can also affect blood circulation.
- Cancer: Treatments for cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, can all affect libido.
- Obstructive sleep apnea: Research suggests that untreated obstructive sleep apnea can cause symptoms of low libido.
Some medications can cause sexual dysfunction or lowered sexual desire. These drugs include:
- antidepressants with serotonergic effects
- antipsychotics that increase prolactin levels
- medications for an enlarged prostate, including finasteride and dutasteride
- hormonal contraceptives
- medications for high blood pressure
Recreational drug use or excessive alcohol consumption can result in low libido.
Emotional and psychological factors
Many emotional and psychological factors can affect a person's desire for sex.
Relationship problems, including lack of trust, conflict, and poor communication, can also lower a person's sex drive.
Causes of low libido in females can include:
After menopause, low estrogen levels can cause thinning and dryness of the vagina, which may lead to discomfort and painful intercourse.
If a person experiences discomfort or pain during sex, they may begin to associate these feelings with sex and have little or no interest in it.
Hormonal changes that occur during and after pregnancy can affect a woman's sex drive. These changes affect everyone differently. Some women may have an increased interest in sex, while others might have a low libido.
Women's hormones continue to fluctuate during the postpartum months, which may affect sex drive during this time too.
Causes of low libido in males can include:
Testosterone is a sex hormone that males produce in the testicles. Testosterone is responsible for a range of bodily processes and characteristics, including facial and body hair, muscle mass, sex drive, sperm production, and bone health.
Low testosterone in men can produce other symptoms, such as enlarged breasts and erectile dysfunction.
Testicular trauma, prior chemotherapy or radiation, anabolic steroid use, certain medications, and chronic illness can cause low testosterone.
The treatment for low libido will often depend on the cause of the problem.
For example, a doctor may recommend changing a medication that is causing sex-related side effects or treating any underlying medical conditions that are reducing the individual's sex drive.
Sometimes, simple lifestyle changes may help a person regain sexual desire. Eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, reducing or cutting out alcohol, and losing weight may help increase interest in sex and improve a person's overall health.
For some people, talk therapy or sex therapy can help. Therapy can help people deal with trauma, improve their self-esteem, and strengthen their relationship with their partner.
These therapies can help a person focus on pleasure and engagement and reduce negative thoughts about sex.
For women, a doctor may prescribe estrogen therapy for a low libido that is due to menopause or other hormonal causes, although research has not yet proven it to be effective for this symptom.
Systemic estrogen therapy is a pill that raises estrogen levels throughout the body.
Topical estrogen, which can be a cream or vaginal ring, acts locally to help with vaginal symptoms, such as dryness. It can have side effects, so it is best to check with a doctor about the risks of taking hormone therapy.
If a man has low testosterone and bothersome symptoms, a doctor may recommend testosterone replacement therapy. This medication can be in the form of topical patches or injections.
If low libido is having a significant effect on a person's life, they should speak to a doctor. Low libido can cause additional stress for some people, which can take a toll on their overall mental and physical health.
Some signs that a person should speak to their doctor about low libido include:
- strained relationship with a partner
- poor self-esteem, social isolation, or stress leading to a decreased quality of life
- no improvement after other attempts to increase libido
Talking about a low sex drive should not cause embarrassment. It is a common experience and can be a symptom or side effect of many different factors.
A doctor can help a person work through the problem and find an effective treatment, or they can refer someone to a sexual health specialist.
Both men and women can experience low libido, or reduced sexual desire, for a variety of different reasons, including medical conditions, a hormone deficiency, or mental health concerns.
If low libido is affecting a person's life, they should discuss this with a doctor to find the best treatment options.