See also: Low Male Libido – Sex Drive Products
While the desire to have sex and ability to attain arousal is tied into survival of the species, sexual activity is also a profound way for lovers to bond and experience great pleasure.
To want it, but to be unable to do it? That’s sad. If you enjoy making love.
It was Sigmund Freud who brought the word “libido” into common use. He described libido as a desire for sex that was similar to the way hunger functions in nutrition. Most people today consider libido to be the same as sex drive or lust.
Unlike hunger, though, libido is non-existent in the young child and then goes through periods of ups and downs in the adult and tends to diminish as we age.
In men, lack of erection is a problem that prevents satisfying sexual activity, while lack of lubrication and blood flow in the vagina are common problems for women.
Loss of libido (sex drive) is often linked to relationship issues, stress or tiredness, but can be a sign of an underlying medical problem, such as reduced hormone levels.
Everyone’s sex drive is different – there’s no such thing as a “normal” libido. But if you find your lack of desire for sex distressing or it’s affecting your relationship, it’s a good idea to get help.
This page explains where you can get help and some common causes of a low libido.
Where to get help and advice
- your GP – they may be able to offer some helpful advice, or refer you to a specialist for an assessment and treatment
- a psychosexual therapist – your GP may be able to refer you on the NHS, or you could pay to see a therapist privately; read more about what sex therapists do and how to find one
- a contraception and sexual health (CASH) clinic
- Relate– a relationship support service that has online advice about sex and relationships, telephone and online counselling and local support services, as well as therapists you can pay to see
- the Sexual Advice Association – a sexual health charity that has online factsheets about sex problems and a helpline on 020 7486 7262
Don’t feel embarrassed about getting help. Lots of people experience problems with their sex drive, and seeking advice can be the first step towards resolving the issue.
Common causes of a low libido
- Relationship problems
- Sexual problems
- Stress, anxiety and exhaustion
- Getting older and the menopause
- Pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding
- Underlying health problems
- Medication and contraception
- Alcohol and drugs
One of the first things to consider is whether you’re happy in your relationship. Do you have any doubts or worries that could be behind your loss of sexual desire?
A low libido can be the result of:
- being in a long-term relationship and becoming overfamiliar with your partner
- loss of sexual attraction
- unresolved conflict and frequent arguments
- poor communication
- difficulty trusting each other
- physical sexual problems
Your GP may be able to refer you and your partner for relationship if you’re having persistent problems, or you may wish to contact Relate for support and advice.
Another thing to consider is whether the problem is a physical issue that makes sex difficult or unfulfilling.
For example, a low sex drive can be the result of:
- ejaculation problems
- erectile dysfunction
- vaginal dryness
- painful sex
- inability to orgasm
- involuntary tightening of the vagina (vaginismus)
Click these links for more information about where to get help and how these problems can be treated. You may also want to read more general good sex advice.
Stress, anxiety and exhaustion
Stress, anxiety and exhaustion can be all-consuming and have a major impact on your happiness, including your sex drive.
If you feel you’re constantly tired, stressed or anxious, you may need to make some lifestyle changes or speak to your GP for advice.
Depression is very different from simply feeling unhappy, miserable or fed up for a short while. It’s a serious illness that interferes with all aspects of your life, including your sex life.
In addition to low libido, signs of depression can include:
- feelings of extreme sadness that don’t go away
- feeling low or hopeless
- losing interest or pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy
It’s important to see your GP if you think you might be depressed. They can advise you about the main treatments for depression, such as talking therapies or antidepressants.
A low sex drive can also be a side effect of antidepressants. Speak to your GP if you think this may be causing your problems.
Getting older and the menopause
A reduced sex drive isn’t an inevitable part of ageing, but it’s something many men and women experience as they get older.
There can be many reasons for this, including:
- falling levels of sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) just before, during and after the menopause in women
- falling levels of sex hormones (testosterone) in men
- age-related health problems, including mobility problems
- side effects of medication
Speak to your GP if you’re concerned about this. They may ask about any other symptoms you have, and sometimes they may do a blood test to check your hormone levels.
There are treatments to increase hormone levels if low levels are causing problems, such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with or without testosterone treatment for women going through the menopause.
Pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding
Loss of interest in sex is common during pregnancy, after giving birth and while breastfeeding.
This can be because of:
- changes in hormone levels
- changes to your body and issues with your body image
- painful sex caused by an injury, such as a cut or tear, during childbirth
- changed priorities, such as focusing on looking after your baby
These issues may improve over time. Speak to your GP if your sex drive doesn’t return and it’s a problem for you.
Underlying health problems
Any long-term medical condition can affect your sex drive. This may be a result of the physical and emotional strain these conditions can cause, or it may be a side effect of treatment.
For example, a low libido can be associated with:
- heart disease
- an underactive thyroid – where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones
- major surgery – for example, surgery to remove the ovaries and womb in women
Speak to your GP or specialist if you think your low libido may be the result of an underlying medical condition or treatment.
Medication and contraception
Certain medicines can sometimes reduce libido, including:
- medication for high blood pressure
- many types of antidepressant medication
- medications for fits (seizures), such as topiramate
- medications called antipsychotics, such as haloperidol
- medication for an enlarged prostate, such as finasteride
- medication for prostate cancer, such as cyproterone
- hormonal contraception, such as the combined hormonal contraception (pill, patch or ring), the progestogen-only pill, the contraceptive implant and the contraceptive injection
Check the leaflet that comes with your medicine to see if low libido is listed as a possible side effect.
See your GP if you think a medicine is affecting your sex drive. They may be able to switch you to something else.
Alcohol and drugs
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period can reduce your sex drive, so it’s a good idea not to drink too much.
Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 alcohol units a week on a regular basis.
Drug misuse is also linked to a loss of sex drive. Find out where to get help for drug addiction.