What is it?
A woman's sexual desires naturally fluctuate over the years. Highs and lows commonly coincide with the beginning or end of a relationship or with major life changes, such as pregnancy, menopause or illness. However, if you are bothered by a low sex drive or decreased sex drive, there are lifestyle changes and sex techniques that may put you in the mood more often. Some medications offer promise as well.
So, what exactly is low sex drive in women? In medical terms, you have hypoactive sexual desire disorder if you have a persistent or recurrent lack of interest in sex that causes you personal distress. But you don't have to meet this medical definition to seek help. If you aren't as interested in sex as you'd like to be, talk to your doctor.
Obviously, the major symptom of low sex drive in women is a low or absent desire for sex. According to some studies, more than 40 percent of women complain of low sexual desire at some point. The percentage is smaller — 5 to 15 percent — if you count only women with ongoing problems.
Still, researchers acknowledge that it's difficult to measure what's normal and what's not. If you want to have sex less often than your partner does, neither one of you is necessarily outside the norm for people at your stage in life — although your differences may cause distress. Similarly, even if your sex drive is weaker than it once was, your relationship may be stronger than ever. Bottom line: There is no magic number to define low sex drive. It varies from woman to woman.
A woman's desire for sex is based on a complex interaction of many components affecting intimacy, including physical well-being, emotional well-being, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle and current relationship. If you're experiencing problems in any of these areas, it can affect your sexual desire. In other words, there are dozens of reasons you may not be interested in sex:
A wide range of illnesses, physical changes and medications can cause a low sex drive, including:
- Sexual problems. If you experience pain during sex (dyspareunia) or inability to orgasm (anorgasmia), it can hamper your desire for sex.
- Medical diseases. Numerous nonsexual diseases can also affect desire for sex, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and neurological diseases. Infertility can also contribute to low sex drive, even after infertility treatments are over.
- Medications. Many prescription medications — including antidepressants, blood pressure medications and chemotherapy drugs — are notorious libido killers. Antihistamines also can diminish your sex drive.
- Alcohol and drugs. A glass of wine may make you feel amorous, but too much alcohol can spoil your sex drive; the same is true of street drugs.
- Surgery. Any surgery related to your breasts or your genital tract can affect your body image, function and desire for sex.
- Fatigue. The exhaustion of caring for aging parents or young children can contribute to low sex drive.
Changes in your hormone levels may change your desire for sex:
- Menopause. Oestrogen helps maintain the health of your vaginal tissues and your interest in sex. But oestrogen levels drop during the transition to menopause, which can cause a double whammy — decreased interest in sex and dryer vaginal tissues, resulting in painful or uncomfortable sex. At the same time, women may also experience a decrease in the hormone testosterone, which boosts sex drive in men and women alike. Although many women continue to have satisfying sex during menopause and beyond, some women experience a lagging libido during this hormonal change.
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding. Hormone changes during pregnancy, just after having a baby and during breast-feeding can put a damper on sex drive. Of course, hormones aren't the only factor affecting intimacy during these times. Fatigue, changes in body image and the pressures of carrying — or caring for — a new baby can all contribute to changes in your sexual desire.
Your problems don't have to be physical or biological to be real. There are many psychological causes of low sex drive, including:
- Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
- Stress, such as financial stress or work stress
- Poor body image
- Low self-esteem
- History of physical or sexual abuse
For many women, emotional closeness is an essential prelude to sexual intimacy. So problems in your relationship can be a major factor in low sex drive. Decreased interest in sex is often a result of ongoing issues, such as:
- Lack of connection with your partner
- Unresolved conflicts or fights
- Poor communication of sexual needs and preferences
- Infidelity or breach of trust
By definition, you may be diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder if screening tests reveal a persistent or recurrent lack of sexual thoughts or receptivity to sexual activity, which causes you personal distress. Whether you fit this medical diagnosis or not, your doctor can look for reasons that your sex drive isn't as high as you'd like and find ways to help.
To evaluate your situation, your doctor may:
- Ask about your medical history. Once you bring up your concerns about low sex drive, your doctor will probably look for a physical cause of the problem, such as a prescription or over-the-counter medication you're taking. Undiagnosed medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or changes in thyroid function can also reduce your libido.
- Perform a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, your doctor can check for signs of physical changes contributing to low sexual desire, such as thinning of your genital tissues, vaginal dryness or pain-triggering spots.
- Recommend testing. Screening tests, thyroid studies and questionnaires can help you and your doctor pinpoint your level of desire and find a reason for low desire.
- Refer you to a specialist. A specialized counselor or sex therapist may be able to better evaluate emotional and relationship factors that can cause low sex drive.