Has your desire disappeared? Once you get down to the root of your wrecked sex drive, you can take action to get it back again.
From a lack of sleep to having too much to drink, low libido is caused by a number of physiological, emotional, and lifestyle factors. Here are 12 common issues that can ruin the mood.
1. Stress. The body reacts to stress by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Chronic stress, in particular, can interfere with your body’s hormone levels, and result in a low libido. The arteries can also narrow and restrict blood flow in response to stress, which can also lead to erectile dysfunction. Stress can also reduce your libido by distracting you and taking your mind off sexual desire.
2. Depression. Libido and depression share a complicated link. “Depression can change the body’s biochemistry and therefore reduce libido,” says Mark L. Held, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the Denver area. “It’s also harder to feel sexual when you’re depressed.” Some medications commonly used to treat depression may also lower libido as a side effect.
3. Low Self-Esteem. It’s hard to feel sexy when your self-confidence is down or when you have an unhealthy body image. “Someone who feels unattractive is less likely to want to engage in sex,” says Held. “Fears of rejection may also come in to play.”
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4. Alcohol or Drug Use. While a little alcohol can help lower inhibitions, too much can impair your nervous system and lead to fatigue — making it difficult to become aroused. Other drugs can decrease your sex drive as well. For example, marijuana suppresses the pituitary gland, which regulates the production of testosterone.
5. Lack of Sleep. A good night’s rest might be hard to come by, but you need sleep to keep a sharp mind, a healthy body, and an active libido. “When you’re exhausted, you’d rather catch up on sleep,” says Alan W. Shindel, MD, clinical instructor and fellow of andrology at the University of California at San Francisco. Physically, a lack of sleep can elevate cortisol levels, which also leads to low libido. Even more surprising in the sleep-ED connection? One recent study found that men with restless leg syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by jumpy, creepy-crawly sensations as you’re falling asleep) are at higher risk for erectile dysfunction, probably due to low dopamine levels.
6. Medication. Some medications used to treat depression, high blood pressure, and other common illnesses can affect libido or cause sexual dysfunction.
7. Erectile Dysfunction. Low libido is a common emotional side effect of ED. “Once a man experiences ED, he may get anxious,” says Shindel. “His confidence is shaken, and he might be afraid it will happen again. His libido shuts down to preserve his ego.”
8. Hormone Imbalance. Libido is directly influenced by testosterone levels. Therefore, low libido is often caused by low testosterone levels — a hormone imbalance. “Low testosterone can be caused by injury, inflammation, or tumors in the testicles,” says Ira Sharlip, MD, clinical professor of urology at University of California at San Francisco and a spokesperson for the American Urological Association. Other causes of a hormone imbalance include cirrhosis of the liver or pituitary diseases. “The liver is responsible for breaking down estrogen; when it fails, estrogen level goes up, and this causes low libido. And pituitary diseases reduce the amount of testosterone in the body,” says Sharlip.
9. Menopause. Women may experience low libido during menopause for a number of reasons. Estrogen levels drop suddenly during these years, causing vaginal tissue to become dry. That, in turn, can lead to discomfort and pain during intercourse and discourage a woman’s sexual desire. Menopause can also lower testosterone, the hormone that boosts libido in women as well as men.
10. Health Conditions. Serious systemic illnesses, such as cancer or kidney disease, can suppress testosterone levels and reduce sperm production. “The body essentially goes into survival mode and doesn’t pay much attention to non-survival functions like producing testosterone and sperm,” says Shindel. Low testosterone is also a side effect of other illnesses, such as renal disease, HIV, and diabetes.
Related: How Sex Therapy Can Help Low Libido
11. Relationship Trouble. When a couple is fighting or feeling distant from each other, they’re less likely to want to be intimate. Communication problems, anger, conflicts, resentment — all these negative emotions can carry over into the bedroom.
12. Lack of Time. Have you ever been too busy for sex? The hectic schedules of daily life can put your sex life on the backburner. “Some people assume there will be time for sex at the end of the day when there is nothing else going on,” says Irwin Goldstein, MD, clinical professor of surgery at University of California at San Diego, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital, and director of San Diego Sexual Medicine. “They don’t schedule sex.” But unless you make time for each other and for intimacy, it may not happen. Eventually lack of sex can lead to low libido.