What Can Lower Your Sex Drive?

By Susan E. Sklar, M.D.

What can lower your sex drive?

This blog will review the most common medical and social conditions that affect your sex drive.

Julia asks for help

When Julia first walked into my office, she was devastated. Her sex drive had been low for months. Her relationship with her husband was suffering. Worse, her mood was suffering along with it. Her mental health was on the decline. Her depression was up, she was more anxious than usual, and she was starting to feel as though she would never be “in the mood” again. Not only that, she was fairly sure she had caught every illness making the rounds over the past several months.

It’s little wonder that Julia was struggling. Studies show that regular sex:

  • Boosts the immune system.
  • Decreases the risk of heart disease.
  • Lowers the risk of stroke.
  • Enhances mental health.
  • Reduces depression.
  • Reduces anxiety.
  • Increases longevity.

In short, sex drive can have a major impact on many areas of life![1]

Unfortunately, many people, especially women, suffer in silence when they have decreased sex drive. The United States as a whole struggles to address issues related to sex. All too often, doctors simply brush women’s concerns about sex aside in spite of slowly increasing awareness about the impact sex–and a person’s sex drive–can have on their quality of life.

We can do better.

I worked with Julia to help isolate the challenges that were leading to problems with her sex drive. We discussed medication challenges and underlying health conditions. We talked about her relationship with her spouse. We even discussed her past sexual experiences and trauma history. It was the first frank discussion Julia had ever had about sex. By the time we were done, we were able to diagnose and alleviate some of the challenges standing between Julia and a satisfying sex life.

What common challenges can impact sex drive? If you’re struggling with decreased libido, some of these challenges might be to blame.

Cardiovascular Disease can be the Cause

Suffering from low sex drive? Do you have CVD? If so, it could be to blame for your overall lack of drive. Some people with CVD struggle with physical limitations that can make sex more difficult. Others, however, face anxiety related to a cardiac condition. Will sex trigger an episode? Can having sex make them, for example, have a heart attack or even die? This anxiety can cause serious challenges related to sexual performance. Over time, it can significantly decrease libido.

If you suffer from CVD, have you discussed it with your doctor? Sometimes, all it takes is a quick exam for your doctor to clear you for normal sexual activity. Unfortunately, many doctors don’t feel comfortable starting that conversation. All too many patients feel as though they don’t have the right information about how chronic heart problems can impact their sex life.[2]  If that sounds familiar, discuss it with your doctor! They may be able to alleviate your worry and allow you to have a more satisfying sex life again.

Diabetes Affects Maria

In addition to the other health complications it can cause, diabetes can damage your nerves and blood vessels. That means decreased feeling–no to mention a loss of the blood flow necessary for men to maintain an erection. Erectile dysfunction can also accompany many of the other conditions that go along with diabetes: high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression, among others.

Women with diabetes face similar challenges. When I started talking to Maria, she admitted that she was struggling with adequate lubrication and fighting to stay aroused. Not only that, she had decreased sensation in the genital area, even during sex. Needless to say, her sex drive was suffering! She wanted to enjoy sex with her husband. Intimacy has always been important in their relationship. She wanted her sex drive back. Nothing she did, however, seemed to help.

Then I learned that Maria had diabetes. Together, we were able to help turn things around for her. A little help with lubrication helped pave the way to improved enjoyment. We also worked to help reverse some of the factors associated with her diabetes. Over time, she gained better control of her blood sugar. While that does not reduce nerve damage, it can help improve sex drive. These days, she finds her sex life much more satisfactory.

40% of Americans are Obese

You probably know a lot about the potential health impacts of obesity. You may not have thought about its overall impact on sex drive. Consider these key factors:

  • Obesity can reduce testosterone levels in men. This leads to more frequent ED.
  • Obesity can cause low sperm count.
  • Obese women are four times more likely to have unplanned pregnancies.[3] They also report less sex than their non-obese counterparts.
  • Conversely, obese women can also struggle more to get pregnant.

Both men and women who struggle with obesity can have problems with overall sexual function and enjoyment. The good news is, by working to reverse obesity, you can also restore much of that missing sexual function!

Cancer and Cancer Treatments Can Be the Cause

Some cancer treatments have relatively little impact on overall sexual function. Other treatments, however, can cause severe sexual impact. According to the American Cancer Society, some cancer treatments can “affect how a certain body part works, change hormone levels, or damage nerve function that can cause changes in a person’s sexual function”.[4]

It’s important for patients with cancer to talk with their doctors about how treatments can impact sexual function. An open, honest conversation can give patients and their partners a better idea of what to expect.

For Andrea, it was all about the conversation. She had no idea that her cancer treatments could cause problems with sex drive. She longed to take comfort in sexuality and intimacy with her husband. Unfortunately, her treatments left her tired, in pain, and insecure. Once we had an honest talk about her cancer treatments, both she and her husband knew better what to expect. They had a long talk about what intimacy she could still enjoy. She also learned how to work around some of her limitations to better enjoy intimacy in spite of her treatments.

Hormone Changes are Common as you Age 

Menopause. Perimenopause. Pregnancy. Periods of immense hormone disruption can also cause big changes with your sex drive–as Barb found out.

She had always enjoyed a healthy sex life with her husband. Unfortunately, as Barb entered perimenopause, that changed. Suddenly, she struggled with getting aroused. When she did feel that desire for sex, she couldn’t reach orgasm.

The lack of estrogen and testosterone associated with these hormone changes also had a significant impact on her sex drive. By using testosterone cream, Barb saw immense changes in her sex drive and satisfaction. By working together, we were able to come up with a hormone replacement plan that worked! Now, her sex life with her husband is as satisfactory as ever.

Mental Health and Interest in Sex 

Changes in sex drive also accompany many underlying mental health disorders. Unfortunately, too many women don’t recognize those symptoms. Even if they do, they may have no idea what to do about it!

Kendra came to my office suffering from depression. She’d been turning down her long-term partner for weeks. He was quickly becoming frustrated with her. Why did she never want sex? What was wrong with her?

After some frank discussion, I discovered that Kendra had recently received a depression diagnosis. Not only that, her self esteem was in the gutter. Her partner hadn’t been helping. When she started turning down sex, he became withdrawn. He didn’t give her the validation she so desperately craved. This, in turn, created a desperate cycle. As Kendra dealt with her depression, she noticed her sex drive returning. A talk with her partner about positive affirmation helped, too!

Other mental health problems can also cause sex drive difficulties, including:

  • Anxiety.
  • Personality disorder.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Stress, especially long periods of stress.

Spousal Abuse is the problem 

Nothing can make a woman’s desire disappear faster than an abusive partner. Val didn’t even realize her husband was abusive. He called her names when he was angry. He yelled at her when she didn’t get “her” chores done. Worse, he had started cutting off her access to friends and family members.

Her sex drive was gone.

Originally, she wanted to improve her sex drive to make her husband happy. As the abuse continued, she realized that she needed to get out. Now, Val is in a healthy relationship with a man who does not abuse her. Her sex drive? Back to normal.

Spousal abuse poses a serious concern. It doesn’t just have the potential for long-term impact on a woman’s sex drive. It can also impact her self-esteem, her physical health, and her long-term mental health. Many women who suffered abuse in the past may struggle with sexual desire in the future. They may need to work through that past abuse in order to enjoy sex again.

Traumatic Events Affect Sex Drive

Like abuse, trauma can cause a woman’s sex drive to decline rapidly or disappear. Trauma does not have to be sexual in nature to create an impact on sex drive. Some women turn to their partners for comfort through sex. Others may withdraw, especially after a sexually-related trauma. Counseling can help many women repair their sex drive and improve feelings of sexuality.

Poverty Denies Sexual Rights 

A person’s financial status should not have a huge impact on overall sex drive. In many cases, however, it can. Many people living in poverty are denied sexual rights that others consider basic.[5] They may lack access to birth control. Women living in poverty experience rape more often than affluent women, and have fewer resources to do anything about it.

Not only that, poverty can impact sexuality in several other ways. Poverty can create a consistent sense of stress, which can cause sexual desire to disappear. People living in poverty are more tired. Their energy often goes to making sure that they have the things they need, not to exploring sexuality. They may also have less education about sex, fertility, and reproduction.

Take Gemma, for example. She grew up in poverty. She received only an abstinence-based education in her public school classroom. Due to some physical challenges, including poor personal lubrication, she struggled to enjoy sex. As she got older, she spent most of her energy focused on her work and her kids. She had several unplanned pregnancies, further sapping her energy and physical resources. As her children got older and she moved toward menopause, she discovered that her sex drive decreased even more.

By the time she came to see me, Gemma had managed to break her way out of poverty. We addressed many of her sexual issues, including some past trauma that continued to cause problems with her sex drive. I also talked with her about lube. She had never realized before how much difference a good personal lubricant could make! Once we balanced her hormones and introduced a quality lubricant, Gemma’s sex drive reached new heights.

Medications may lower your Sex Drive 

Many common medications can create serious issues with sex drive. These can include:

  • Medications for depression.
  • Anti-anxiety medications.
  • Medications used to treat chronic conditions.

Your own observations about your medications may prove the most useful when identifying problems with sex drive. Did you notice a big change in your sex drive when you started taking a certain medication? Have you noticed sexual challenges stemming from a certain point in time? You may not notice them clearly at first. Not all sexual problems from medications simply interfere with arousal, either. Some decrease arousal. Others make it harder to reach orgasm. Pay attention to those signs and symptoms! Keep a diary about your sex drive or what you experience when you have sex. Make note of what you eat and what medications you took. Consider the time of day. Track your supplements.

Read the medication inserts. If many people experience sexual function problems related to the medication, the insert will note it. If you suffer from those side effects, especially if they hold you back in important areas of your life, talk to your doctor! You may be able to adjust your dosage or try a different medication.

Low sex drive can cause a lot of problems. Fortunately, I can help you overcome many of the challenges that can lead to low sex drive. While some problems may seem outside your control, others are not. Schedule an appointment for a consultation today so that we can start working toward improving your sex drive.

Resources

  1. Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
    Can sex improve your health? Yes. Yes! YES!
    MDLinx October 15, 2019
    LINK: Can sex improve your health? Yes. Yes! YES!
  2. Glenn N. Levine, Elaine E. Steinke, Faisal G. Bakaeen, Biykem Bozkurt, Melvin D. Cheitlin, Jamie Beth Conti, Elyse Foster, Tiny Jaarsma, Robert A. Kloner, Richard A. Lange, Stacy Tessler Lindau, Barry J. Maron, Debra K. Moser, E. Magnus Ohman, Allen D. Seftel, and William J. Stewart
    Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease
    Circulation February 28, 2012, Vol 125, Issue 8
    LINK: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease
  3. Science Daily
    Obesity may harm your sexual health, study suggests
    Science Daily June 16, 2010
    LINK: Obesity may harm your sexual health, study suggests
  4. American Cancer Society
    How Cancer and Cancer Treatment Can Affect Sexuality
    American Cancer Society
    LINK: How Cancer and Cancer Treatment Can Affect Sexuality
  5. Sida
    Poverty and Sexuality:What are the connections?
    Sida September 2010
    LINK: Poverty and Sexuality:What are the connections?

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