By Dr. Poosha Darbha, Sexologist
Loss of interest in sex (commonly described as low libido) is a common problem affecting up to one in five men and even more women at some point in their lives. Many people experience it occasionally usually due to professional and personal stress, but when low libido lasts for a long time or keeps returning – it may indicate one or more underlying personal, medical or lifestyle problems, which can be upsetting to both partners in a relationship.
The causes may vary with age, from person to person, and situation to situation. They range from psychological, sociopolitical, religious, spiritual to physiological, medical and organic (physical) causes. To quote a few examples:
- Psychosocial Issues. There are many psychosocial causes of low sex drive, including:
- lack of knowledge about sexual anatomy, sexual responses, sexual position and technique
- myths, moral inhibitions, unattractive partner, cheating partner, interpersonal hostilities.
- Fear of or aversion to sex
- Lack of or frequent deprivation of orgasms
- Painful sex
- Mental health issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, paranoia:
- Stress, such as financial or work related stress
- Poor body image.
- Low self-esteem.
- History of physical or sexual abuse.
- Previous negative sexual experiences
- Hormone Changes. A few years before menopause, estrogen levels start dropping. This can cause decreased interest in sex and dry vaginal tissues, resulting in uncomfortable or painful sex. Although many women continue to have satisfying sex during menopause and beyond, some women experience a lagging libido during this hormonal change.
- Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. Hormone changes during pregnancy, just after having a baby and during breastfeeding can put a damper on sexual desire and can also lead to lack of orgasm. Of course, hormones aren’t the only factor affecting intimacy during these times. Fatigue, changes in body image, and the pressures of pregnancy or caring for a new baby can all contribute to changes in your sexual desire.
- Medical disorders such as cardiovascular diseases (e.g. hardened arteries), endocrine diseases (e.g. diabetes mellitus, prolactin-producing tumors), gynecological diseases (e.g. pelvic surgery, endometriosis, chronic pelvic pain), neurological diseases (e.g. epilepsy, multiple sclerosis), cancer etc. may also affect desire for sex. Undernourished states and overt nutritional disorders including anemia.
- Medications. Many prescription medications including antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, drugs treating peptic ulcers, high BP, arthritis are among notorious libido killers.
- Lifestyle Habits. 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. Sedentary lifestyle is a libido-killer too.
- Surgery. Any surgery, especially one related to your breasts or your genital tract, can affect your body image, sexual self-esteem and thus desire for sex.
- Fatigue. Exhaustion from caring for young children or aging parents can contribute to low sex drive. Fatigue from illness or surgery also can play a role in a low sex drive.
So, if you ever experience diminished or absent sex drive, and it is upsetting to you or your partner, it is time to pause, give a thought to it, make notes of your experiences, perceptions, reactions (of you and your partner) and approach a sex therapist experienced in managing female sexual desire problems.
Though biologically the male and female sexual response cycle appears to be similar, the female sexual function is far more complex than appears to be. Understanding and management of it needs compassion besides psycho-sexuo-medical expertise.