Sexual Health > Sex > Sex and Libido - Libido and Hormones

The Facts About Libido

Find out how libido affects your sexual health.

A couple cuddles in a bed with white sheets.

Libido describes a person's overall sex drive, that is, their desire for sexual activity. A person's libido can be affected by biological, psychological and societal factors in the long term. It can be temporarily influenced by the psychological impacts of life stressors, such as changes in job, relationship or lifestyle. It is perfectly normal for your libido to vary between strong and weak.

Some studies indicate that females typically reach their peak sex drive in their 30s, whereas males often reach it in their late teenage years.

What is libido?

Libido, or sex drive, can vary significantly from one person to the next, depending on your life circumstances and personal preferences. It can also be affected by hormone levels, medications, medical conditions and relationship status. However, it's important to understand there is no "normal" level of libido. Some people may feel like having sex every day, while others might want to have sex only once a year.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some studies found the related restrictions correlated with higher rates of sexual dysfunction and reduced sexual activity. The pandemic caused many people to have psychological struggles, such as anxiety and depression, which led to them not being in the mood for sex. A 2022 meta-analysis found the change in sexual functioning was greater in women compared with men.

What influences libido?

There's no "normal" libido level. Any level of sexual desire is good as long as you are comfortable with it. But if you want to change your libido, you have a number of ways to influence it.

Influences on libido include psychological factors such as depression, stress and anxiety. The state of your relationship can also raise or lower libido, but neither partner should take or feel the blame for their partner's sex drive. Physiological factors, such as testosterone level, age, side effects of medications, sleep disorders and pregnancy, can play a role.

How to maintain a healthy libido

Healthy habits and lifestyle changes may increase libido. Sexual arousal and function are dependent on a healthy cardiovascular system and good overall health. This is why both men and women can improve their sex lives by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The following tips can help you maintain a healthy libido:

  • Consume less caffeine
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get more sleep
  • Quit smoking, if you partake
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Reduce stress

What is low libido?

Low libido is characterized by a decreased interest in sex. It's common to occasionally lose interest in sex, and libido levels fluctuate throughout different periods of your life.

It's also normal for your sexual interest to not always match your partner's. Long periods of low libido may be a cause for concern and may even be an indicator of an underlying disease.

Physical causes of low libido

Some of the physical causes of low libido include:

  • Chronic disease. Heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, among other chronic diseases, can cause fatigue and mood swings, which can affect libido.
  • Fatigue. Insufficient sleep is a common cause of low libido that research shows contributes to problems such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and lack of arousal. Lack of sleep affects the body's levels of testosterone, a hormone that affects libido in both men and women.
  • Hormonal changes. As we get older, the levels of our body's hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, naturally decline. Lower estrogen in women, for example, can lead to vaginal dryness and painful sex.
  • Stress. Feeling stressed has physical effects that can interfere with your sex drive.

Medications and libido

Many medications are known to have a negative effect on libido. Most of them have an impact on the levels of three key hormones in the body: serotonin, prolactin and testosterone. Common offenders are psychiatric and cardiovascular medicines.

The following drugs have been associated with low libido and/or sexual dysfunction:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Beta blockers
  • Estrogen-containing drugs
  • Finasteride
  • Opioids
  • Oral contraceptives

Talk to your doctor about any potential sexual side effects when starting any new medications, including those listed, so you can be aware of any changes that happen and not attribute them to another cause.

Diet and libido

Foods that may help people improve their libido are called aphrodisiacs. Oysters are thought to be among the best-known aphrodisiacs. Their effects may be due to their high levels of zinc, a mineral the body needs for vital functions, such as cell metabolism and regulating levels of testosterone.

Other foods that are high in zinc and could potentially have similar effects include:

  • Crab
  • Fortified cereal
  • Lobster
  • Pine nuts
  • Red meat

It's important to remember that sexual desire is complicated and involves many factors beyond diet, including your relationships, stress levels and personal preferences.

Mental health causes

The biggest psychological causes of low libido may be depression and anxiety. Additionally, a highly stressful lifestyle can also have a huge impact on someone's sex drive.

People who have body image problems may experience a lack of sexual desire as well.

Depression and anxiety

When you're depressed, chances are you don't have the desire and energy to have sex. Your self-esteem may also take a hit, so you don't feel confident during sex. Another significant component of depression is losing the ability to experience pleasure. If it seems like there is nothing to gain from having sex, your libido drops.

Antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are highly effective in treating the symptoms of depression, but they may cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women. An array of antidepressants affect hormone levels in different ways, therefore, some drugs are worse (or better) for libido than others. If you experience sexual issues, talk to your doctor about adjusting the medication or trying other treatments.

Anxiety can also lead to low libido. When you are anxious, you have higher levels of the body's main stress hormone, cortisol, which is known to suppress sexual desire.

PTSD and your sex drive

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that may happen after someone has seen or been a part of a traumatic incident, such as a natural disaster, a car accident, sexual assault or service in a war zone.

Common PTSD symptoms include nightmares or memories of the trauma, avoiding situations that bring back those memories, heightened reactions to stress and anxiety. These symptoms are often incompatible with sexual feelings such as pleasure, intimacy, safety and trust.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder can experience major fluctuations in their sex drive. They can experience a cognitive barrier to engaging in sex. And when people with PTSD do become aroused, they may have an involuntary reaction that makes them feel scared or threatened, impeding healthy sexual function.

Low libido in men

Men are generally more readily aroused physiologically than women. For many men, desire is tied to this arousal. Men often experience decreased libido in response to heavy alcohol consumption.

Erectile dysfunction, performance anxiety, medications and stress can all diminish sexual desire as well.

Low libido in women

A woman's libido naturally fluctuates over the years. High and low libido often coincide with the start or end of a relationship, or with pregnancy, menopause or illness. Some psychiatric medications can cause low sex drive in women.

How to talk to your partner about low libido

Talking about low libido with a partner can be difficult. Make sure you consider your partner's feelings in how you approach the topic. Be honest about how often you want to have sex, emphasize your love for your partner and be open to compromise.

Many men and women are unsure how to approach the topic without upsetting or offending their partners. Avoid placing blame or getting angry. Say something like, "I miss having sex with you and I was wondering how you feel about it." This can open up the discussion.

How is low libido diagnosed?

The first step in evaluating someone's lack of sexual desire is to get a history of the issue. This includes the date of onset, severity, situational and medical factors around that time, and previous treatments.

It's also important to discover if other sexual problems are present. Sometimes low libido is the result of another sexual problem, such as erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women. It's also important to evaluate the patient's relationship with their partner or partners. Other factors include the length of the relationship and relationship stressors.

Treatment options for low sex drive

Treatment for low libido depends on the factors that are causing it. If it's due to an underlying physical health condition, a doctor can recommend some treatments that might improve your sex drive. If it's the result of relationship woes, you may benefit from seeing a sex therapist.

Some types of sexual dysfunction, such as ED, can have an impact on libido, but fortunately, there are many treatment options. Menopause and low testosterone can be treated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). If low libido stems from mental health issues, antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be beneficial.

Natural ways toward a healthy libido

Natural methods of potentially boosting your libido include:

  • Ingesting certain herbs
  • Eating aphrodisiac fruits
  • Eating chocolate
  • Getting a good night's sleep
  • Increasing self-confidence
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Reducing stress
  • Taking the supplement yohimbine

Always consult your doctor before adding herbs or supplements to your diet or making any other significant dietary changes.

When to see a doctor

Doctors can recognize and treat any underlying medical concerns, such as diabetes, blood pressure issues and low testosterone. They can also identify medications you're taking that are known to inhibit sex drive, as well as lifestyle factors like excessive alcohol use, high stress levels and lack of sleep.

Libido has both physiological and psychological factors. If you're having problems in your relationship with your partner, seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist may be worthwhile. They could help you identify the psychological factors that are contributing to your low libido.


What time of day is a woman's libido highest?

A 2015 study of 2,300 people by Lovehoney, a maker of sex toys, found a man's sexual desire typically peaks between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. because that's when their testosterone levels are the highest. Women, on the other hand, were found to desire sex most between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

A 2015 study found women tend to show greater interest in sex just before ovulation. A midcycle peak in estrogen occurs approximately 24 hours after ovulation. Estradiol, a type of estrogen hormone, is believed to increase sexual desire.

What causes low libido?

Common causes of low sex drive include:

  • Certain medications
  • Chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and thyroid disease
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Lower hormone levels as you get older
  • Pregnancy
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual problems such as vaginal dryness and erectile dysfunction
  • Stress, anxiety and depression

What can I do to get my libido back?

The following methods may help increase your sex drive:

  • Aphrodisiacs. Herbal aphrodisiacs, such as Eurycoma longifolia, may increase sex drive. Certain foods such as oysters, strawberries and chocolate may have aphrodisiac properties.
  • Exercise. People can increase their libido through regular, vigorous exercise. Practicing mindfulness and yoga may also be beneficial.
  • Get more sleep. Research has indicated that longer sleep duration may lead to a higher level of sexual interest the next day.
  • Sex therapy. A sex therapist can assist with sexual problems stemming from psychological causes.
  • Testosterone therapy. This therapy has been shown to help men regain their libido.