Many people experience their libido, or in other words sex drive, increasing in the summer. However, the amount of libido varies depending on your life situation and it is also normal that sometimes libido is lost. Many people ponder certain questions related to libido at least from time to time: how much sex should I want, is it normal if I don’t feel like having sex and is it possible to affect own libido are classic topics for people in relationships as well as single people. When you understand better what kind of things affect your libido it is also easier to start finding answers to these questions.
What is libido?
Libido is a complicated concept which is affected by many things. The foundation of libido is primarily biological, but psychological, social and cultural factors also have a great effect on it. From the biological perspective, libido is controlled by androgens or male hormones (of which the most important is testosterone) estrogens or female hormones and progesterone. Both men and women have all of these, though different quantities. Sex hormones have a great effect on sexual development and reproduction. In addition, sex hormones affect the growth of bones and muscles, hair growth, how fat is divided in the body and the regulation of cholesterol synthesis. Sex hormones are produced in ovaries for women and in the testicles for men. The production of estrogen and testosterone are reduced by age for both men and women which can also affect libido.
Which things affect your libido?
Your level of sex drive often reflects your state of physical and emotional wellbeing, even though the fluctuation of the level of libido depending on the day or life situation is completely normal. The amount of libido also varies a lot between different people which is why no “normal” level for sex drive can be defined. Nearly every one of us experiences moments when you just don’t feel like having sex. This can be related only to certain situations or your own partner or it can be a very pervasive feeling. Changes in sex drive can also be a sign of health problems or even an illness which is why a visit to the doctor’s office can be a good idea if the problem continues.
The following factors affect libido:
Stress and fatigue: Demanding job, family life, taking care of elderly parents and other factors that add challenges to your everyday life can take its toll on wellbeing which can also be reflected in sex drive. Especially the prolonging of stress and fatigue can reduce sex drive which can also cause friction in the relationship.
Depression: Depression is an illness which erodes wellbeing in many ways and therefore also affects sexuality. Self-criticism and changes in self-image are often related to depression which can also affect the willingness to have sex and the ability to get aroused. The loss of libido can also be the result of antidepressants.
Illnesses: In addition to physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue, many illnesses cause mood swings and changes in appearance which are all factors that affect sexuality as well. The loss of libido is often related to for example cancer, diabetes and hypothyroidism. Obesity can also affect libido because it is related to the loss of testosterone. Obesity can also reduce libido due to psychological reasons such as low self-esteem or a negative body image.
Medication: Many medicine can reduce libido. For example blood pressure medication, antidepressants (especially SSRIs) and hormonal contraceptives can affect sex drive. Prescription opioids, such as codeine and fentanyl, can also reduce the amount of sex hormones.
Alcohol and smoking: Heavy alcohol usage and smoking reduce libido. When consumed in normal amounts, alcohol can increase sex drive but makes it more difficult to get erection or orgasm. Heavy use of alcohol reduces the amount of testosterone in the body in the long term and thus affects libido. Smoking reduces blood circulation and thus makes it more difficult to get aroused.
Relationship problems: There will inevitably be moments in a long-term relationship when you just don’t feel like having sex. Lack of communication, intimacy issues, arguing, not spending enough time together, trust issues and changes in your own or in your partner’s appearance are all reasons which can reduce action in the bedroom. It is also common that the sex drives of two people in a relationship don’t match: the other person would be happy with having sex a couple of times per month while the other person would like to have sex a couple of times per week. The person who wants more sex can feel rejected which can lead to self-esteem issues while the other person can experience pressure to respond to the other person’s wishes which can reduce sex drive even further.
Pain during sex can also reduce sex drive for both men and women. For women the pain occurs due to vaginal dryness or endometriosis and for men the pain can be the result of a tight foreskin or inflammation.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding: For women, pregnancy and breastfeeding considerably affect hormone production. Estrogen levels increase as the pregnancy progresses and sex drive can increase especially during the second trimester. However, after giving birth the estrogen levels decrease and stay low during breastfeeding. This often causes vaginal dryness which can cause pain during intercourse and thus reduce the willingness to have sex. The local symptoms of genitalia can in his case be treated with locally-used low-dose vaginal estrogen. However, the bigger reason for low sex drive is the new life situation which inevitably pushes sex to the background in your mind.
Periods: Hormone levels and sex drive fluctuate along with women’s menstrual cycle. For most women, libido is at its peak right before and after ovulation and during the periods. Libido is at its lowest right before the periods.
Aging: Aging often causes changes to the libido for both women and men. In women’s case menopause affects hormone production and thus libido as well. Women’s estrogen and testosterone levels permanently decrease with menopause. Low estrogen levels can make arousal more difficult because it often causes vaginal dryness and sensitivity.
Men’s testosterone levels also reduce with age which also affects sex drive. Obesity reduces testosterone levels further which is why weight loss can help to regain the lost testosterone levels. The decrease of testosterone can also be the result of illnesses, medication or bad lifestyle such as excessive alcohol usage, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise.
Regardless of sex, medication and mobility issues can reduce libido for the elderly. Then again, for many people their libido remains the same even as they get older.
Natural ways to increase libido
Unwillingness to have sex and the lack of sexual intercourse are not necessarily problems. The only thing which matters is whether you are happy with your libido, not whether it is high or low measured on someone else’s standards. The level of libido becomes a problem when it causes anxiety. Unwillingness can cause for example self-esteem issues or problems in the relationship which can be reasons for wanting to do something about it. The reasons for unwillingness to have sex would be good to discover so that the problem could be begun to be solved.
Libido can be enhanced by the following ways:
Stress management and sufficient rest: Stress and fatigue affect sex drive. If you constantly feel stressed, tired or anxious it is good to take a moment to reconsider your lifestyle. Take care of your emotional wellbeing by slowing down your everyday life and by focusing on things which bring you joy. Arrange time for your favourite hobbies and meeting friends, exercise regularly and prioritize sleep. Sleep affects your energy levels and mood and according to certain studies, your libido as well. If fatigue continues despite the lifestyle changes it can be good to see a doctor as it is good to find out whether there are other health-related reasons for fatigue.
Nutrition: A diet which supports heart health and blood circulation also supports sexual health. Diet which includes plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grains and fibers and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and fatty fish, supports heart health and enhances overall health and therefore helps to maintain libido levels as well.
Certain foods are also said to increase libido and stimulate the production of testosterone due to the vitamins and minerals they contain (especially zinc, vitamin B and vitamin D). These include for example banana, garlic, dark chocolate, avocado, watermelon, ginger, oysters, pine nuts, pomegranate, spinach and extra virgin olive oil. However, you should take these advice with a grain of salt because there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.
Herbs and food supplements: Certain herbs are also said to increase libido. Ginkgo biloba extract is obtained from the Chinese ginkgo, or the maidenhair tree, and it is known for its qualities which affect the brain and blood circulation. In some research, ginkgo has been shown to treat antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. Scientific evidence on the stimulating effects of maca, ginseng and tribulus also exist. The effects of ashwagandha on sex drive have also been studied but no clear evidence has been found so far.
Exercising: Regular exercise improves overall wellbeing and mental balance. Exercise can also help to manage body image issues which can consequently improve self-esteem and increase sex drive. However, keep exercising in moderation since excessive exercising can have the opposite effect on libido. For women, regular training of the pelvic floor muscles can have a positive effect on libido and the enjoyment of sex.
Speaking: In addition to healthy lifestyle, speaking can open many locks which affect libido. If you are in a relationship and low libido has become a problem in your relationship, have an open and honest discussion with your partner about the issues which affect your sex drive. Open communication builds trust and intimacy between you and your partner which also strengthens libido. If you are not in a relationship and consider your low sex drive a problem, talk about it with your friends or with a therapist. Discussing things related to sexuality can at first feel difficult and shameful but it is worth it. Many people are dealing with the same problems so you can be surprised by the support you get from your friends.
Sources and additional reading:
Healthline: Boost Your Libido with These 10 Natural Tips
Medical News Today: 10 ways to boost libido
PubMed: Natural Aphrodisiacs-A Review of Selected Sexual Enhancers
PubMed: Ginkgo Biloba for Antidepressant-Induced Sexual Dysfunction