The Truth Behind Your Fluctuating Sex Drive
Chad Teixeira had never struggled with low libido before. The 27-year-old had been sexually active in his early and mid-20s, until one day he realized his desire for sex had all but evaporated.
In reality, though, the timing of this realization was far from random. At the time, Teixeira was working 18-hour days as the CEO of an agency in London and running on very little sleep. He was under an immense amount of pressure and felt constantly stressed.
"I only noticed low libido developing and my sex drive being affected last year, when I was overwhelmed and beyond stressed with work," Teixeira said. "I was also making unhealthy lifestyle choices and drinking more, which interfered with my sex life and how I felt about myself."
Teixeira said he never thought much about his libido before, as it had never been an issue, and he had never been taught about how countless factors—including but not limited to stress—can cause a person's libido to fluctuate throughout their life.
But he was forced to learn from experience, as his lack of sex drive—coupled with the mood swings and low energy levels he was experiencing from being so stressed—created an untenable situation in both his platonic and romantic relationships, and he knew something needed to change.
Like Teixeira, many people give little thought to how high or low their sex drive is until it presents some kind of issue in their lives. Many suffer in silence because of the shame associated with conversations about sex and pleasure. They may be afraid to ask questions and seek help for an issue that affects so many.
California-based certified sexual health clinician Rachael Cabreira, R.N., said this is an issue she sees frequently in her work with patients, many of whom come in ashamed and confused about why their libido has seemingly disappeared into thin air.
The many reasons for low libido
The answer isn't often straightforward, Cabreira said, as it can sometimes be a combination of factors. Still, she said it's important to be aware of how factors such as age, lifestyle, mental health, medication and more can have an impact.
For starters, age and hormone levels are some of the most common contributors to decreased libido, she explained.
"Estrogen, progesterone and testosterone all impact your libido, so when hormonal levels change, so can your desire," she said, adding that perimenopause, menopause and pregnancy can also greatly affect libido, for better and worse.
As in Teixeira's situation, she said stress can also impact hormone levels, often leading to decreased libido.
"Chronic stress not only makes it difficult to think about sex because your brain is too busy, it can also lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol," Cabreira said. "High levels of cortisol can lower your levels of the hormones that influence sexual desire, like testosterone."
Pain, especially during sex, can also act as the ultimate vibe killer. This is especially true for women as they age. Declining hormone levels can lead to vaginal dryness and painful sex, which Cabreira said understandably weakens sexual desire. But other types of chronic pain can influence libido, too.
"Who wants to think about sex when their brain is busy focusing on a sore back?" Cabreira said.
Mental health is another big factor. According to Cabreira, depression is one of the most common contributors to low libido, while anxiety also has an impact. Anxiety causes cortisol levels to increase, and anxious thoughts make it difficult to focus. Sleep deprivation can likewise have an effect, she said.
Substances such as drugs and alcohol are also known to cause low libido. Though it may seem counterintuitive considering a little booze can sometimes put you in the mood, too much alcohol can have the opposite impact, Cabreira said. Many medications, including but not limited to common antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can also cause sexual dysfunction, which is known as post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD).
According to PSSD Network, post-SSRI sexual dysfunction is a condition that can arise following the use of antidepressants in which sexual function and cognitive or emotional function do not completely return to normal after stopping the medication. The most common symptom is a lack of libido or, in many cases, the complete absence of libido.
"One of the first steps in determining a cause of lower libido should be reviewing any medications with your healthcare practitioner," Cabreira said.
According to somatic sex coach and sexological bodyworker Sylvie Bee, who is based in California, how pleasurable or painful a person's sexual experiences have been over the course of their lifetime and whether they hold any trauma in their bodies can also play a role in sex drive. Whether a person is getting their core needs met (erotic or otherwise), by themselves or a partner, also matters.
Fortunately, Bee said just because you suffer from one or more of these issues at some point in your life does not necessarily mean your libido is gone forever.
"Our bodies are constantly in flux," she said. "Things are constantly changing, whether that's our stress levels, our mood, our hormones, our brain chemical balance, our nervous system activation, how tired we are, how our relationships are, how happy we are with our own body at any given moment. It's no surprise that sometimes we're in the mood for sex and other times we're not."
What you can do about it
While a specific solution for decreased libido depends on the cause, Bee said there are a number of ways people can increase their sex drive and improve their sex life.
For hormone issues, she said hormone creams or oral hormone treatments can be effective, and people struggling with medication-related challenges can look into switching their meds to ones that are known to impact libido less. Going to couples counseling with a coach or therapist who specializes in sex and intimacy is also a great idea, Bee added. Anecdotally, she said cannabis products are known to help quite a bit, too.
In her work, Bee said she sees people who have an inability to stay present and connected during sex or want to learn how to establish and communicate boundaries. She also helps people who suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED), unintentional ejaculation, vaginismus, anhedonia or anorgasmia, sexual or emotional trauma, genital/pelvic pain or scar tissue, compulsive sexual behaviors and more.
"Getting regular touch is important, having a self-pleasure practice is important, making time for self-care and connection is important, and so is discussing fantasies," she said.
Cabreira added that clinically addressing the root cause of low libido is also important, especially if it's a medical issue such as hormone health and imbalances, gut health, urinary health and so on. Other solutions include eating healthy and exercising, using lube, seeking pelvic floor physical therapy if needed, taking supplements that can help improve overall health, and, in some cases, simply having more sex.
For many people, supplements in particular may help address a diminished desire for sexual activity. Giddy Health Libido Boost vitamins can help you maintain a normal, healthy sex life. These supplements use ethically sourced formulations and dosages backed by science and research, including Panax ginseng and ashwagandha, which can enhance sexual arousal and satisfaction.
For Teixeira, the most effective solution was taking a look at his life and making the necessary changes to remove his main source of stress.
"I have since developed a healthy balance between my work and personal life, and I left my previous role as CEO at an agency to open up my own agency where I can balance everything properly," he said, adding that he also found writing a journal and aromatherapy to be very helpful.
As a society, however, Bee said one of the best ways to address sexual issues is by doing away with the shame associated with them and being open about our experiences.
"People would be having more sex if they knew how to manage these factors," Bee said. "Talk about reclaiming pleasure, reclaiming our bodies. There's so much to talk about. The only way to get over stigma is to continue to talk about these things loudly and bravely."