In my professional work specializing in female sexual dysfunction, low libido or low sexual desire is very common. For some women, they have never felt an interest in sex, and for others they have seen a change over a period of time. Whether the root is psychological, physiological, or both, low libido can put stress on a relationship and can create frustration for both partners.
Low libido can be caused by numerous factors:
Hormonal: In some cases, a woman may be experiencing a hormonal imbalance that is affecting her libido. Though puberty and menopause are significant milestones that are marked by dramatic hormonal changes, women are constantly going through hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives. Testosterone, often associated with male libido, is not only present in women but is essential for female libido and its deficit can translate into lowered or minimal interest in sex.
Medical Conditions: Many diseases and medical conditions can affect libido. Examples of these include hypertension, obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular and neurological conditions. Leading a sedentary lifestyle, with its many adverse effects on health, can also lower libido.
Medications: While side effects vary from person to person, many medications, including some anti-depressants and anti-anxiety, have side effects that affect your libido. Oral contraceptives (birth control pills), which essentially manipulate the hormone levels in your body, can also affect your libido. If you are on any medications and are experiencing low libido, talk to your doctor about your options.
Psychological Many psychological conditions can affect libido. Depression, for example, often has a feature called anhedonia, which is the inability to enjoy activities that used to be pleasurable, which can include sex. Drugs and alcohol, though they may enhance one’s mood, can flatten libido. Conditions such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, or even anorexia can certainly contribute to a woman’s libido. In addition, religious and personal beliefs about sexuality may also play a role in how a woman experiences her libido.
Life Stressors: Sometimes life’s challenges can put sex at the bottom of someone’s list of things to do. Fatigue and being overwhelmed with responsibilities can make some women feel a very low libido, especially if they are caretakers for others and are always putting others’ needs first. If a relationship with a partner is going through hardship or there is building resentment, that too can contribute to libido.
The ripple effect of low libido can exceed beyond just the bedroom. Many couples feel physically and emotionally distant when they are not having regular sexual activity, and low libido can compound that by adding distressing feelings for both partners. The woman may feel guilty for being sexually unavailable and may avoid touching her partner altogether out of fear that it will give him the erroneous message that she is interested in having sexual activity. The man may feel rejected and unloved as the result of his partner not wanting to be sexually connected to him, regardless of her stated feelings of love for him. The longer a couple gets into a pattern surrounding the women’s low libido, the more it becomes part of their routine- no matter how painful it may be.
Despite the prevalence of libido in women of all ages and the stress it can present in relationships, many women do not get help for the condition. Perhaps they don’t know who to turn to for help. Or they think it’s ‘all in their head’ and that if they just out their issues on their own then they’ll be ok. For some, the fears and distress in talking about sexuality- especially in the context of having sexual needs- is enough to keep them quiet about the issue.
Fortunately, there is help out there but it is important that a holistic picture of functioning is taken into account. Find the right specialists in your area who are familiar with sexual health and can assist you examining your medical, psychological and lifestyle issues that may be contributing to your libido. It may be intimidating to talk about your sexual needs, but getting over that hurdle will enable you to get the appropriate help and hopefully lead you to a satisfying level of sexual functioning.
The author, Rachel Hercman is a is a psychotherapist specializing in sexuality, dating, and relationships.