Libido refers to a person's sex drive or desire for sexual activity. The desire
for sex is an aspect of a person's sexuality, but varies enormously from one
person to another, and it also varies depending on circumstances at a particular
time. Sex drive has usually biological, psychological, and social components.
Biologically, levels of hormones such as testosterone are believed to affect sex
drive; social factors, such as work and family, also have an impact; as do
internal psychological factors, like personality and stress. Sex drive may be
affected by medical conditions, medications, lifestyle and relationship issues.
A person who has extremely frequent or a suddenly increased sex drive may be
experiencing hypersexuality, but there is no measure of what is a healthy level
for sex. Asexual people may lack any sexual desires.
A person may have a
desire for sex but not have the opportunity to act on that desire, or may on
personal, moral or religious reasons refrain from acting on the urge.
Psychologically, a person's urge can be repressed or sublimated. On the other
hand, a person can engage in sexual activity without an actual desire for it.
Males reach the peak of their sex drive in their teens, while women reach it in
A sex drive can be viewed in terms of a general desire for sex or in terms of
desire for sex with a particular person. A general desire for sex is an
important motivator for the formation and maintenance of intimate relationships
in both men and women, and a lack or loss of sexual desire can have an adverse
impact on a relationship. A general change in desire for sex by either partner
in a relationship for any reason if sustained and unresolved may result in a
lack or loss of sexual desire for the other partner, which may cause problems in
the relationship. Infidelity may be an indication of a continuing general desire
for sex, though not with the primary partner or because personal sexual needs
cannot be satisfied adequately by that partner. Problems can arise from the loss
of sexual desire in general or for the partner or a lack of connection with the
partner, or poor communication of sexual needs and preferences
Freud viewed libido as passing through a series of developmental stages
within the individual. Failure to adequately adapt to the demands of these
different stages could result in libidinal energy becoming 'dammed up' or
fixated in these stages, producing certain pathological character traits in
adulthood. Thus the psychopathologized individual for Freud was an immature
individual, and the goal of psychoanalysis was to bring these fixations to
conscious awareness so that the libido energy would be freed up and available
for conscious use in some sort of constructive sublimation.
Psychological factors can reduce the desire for sex. These factors can
include lack of privacy and/or intimacy, stress or fatigue, distraction or
depression. Environmental stress, such as prolonged exposure to elevated sound
levels or bright light, can also affect libido. Other causes include experience
of sexual abuse, assault, trauma, or neglect, body image issues and sexual
Some people have suggested that contraception may influence the desire for
sex by women, by decreasing the anxiety level from an unexpected pregnancy.
Physical factors that can affect libido include: endocrine issues such as
hypothyroidism, levels of available testosterone in the bloodstream of both
women and men, the effect of certain prescription medications (for example
flutamide), various lifestyle factors and the attractiveness and biological
fitness of one's partner. Inborn lack of sexual desire, often observed in
asexual people, can also be considered a physical factor.
Being very underweight or malnourished can cause a low libido due to
disruptions in normal hormonal levels. There is also evidence to support that
specific foods have an effect on libido.
Anemia is particularly a cause of lack of libido in women due to the loss of
iron during the period.
Smoking, alcohol abuse and drug abuse may also cause disruptions in the
hormonal balances and therefore leads to a decreased libido. However,
specialists suggest that several lifestyle changes such as drinking milk,
exercising, quitting smoking, lower consumption of alcohol or using prescription
drugs may help increase one's sexual desire. Moreover, learning stress
management techniques can be helpful for individuals who experience libido
impairment due to a stressful life.
Reduced libido is also often iatrogenic and can be caused by many
medications, such as hormonal contraception, SSRIs and other antidepressants,
antipsychotics, opioids and beta blockers. In some cases iatrogenic impotence or
other sexual dysfunction can be permanent, as in post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD).
Testosterone is one of the hormones controlling libido in human beings.
Emerging research is showing that hormonal contraception methods like "the pill"
(which rely on estrogen and progesterone together) are causing low libido in
females by elevating levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds
to sex hormones, including testosterone, rendering them unavailable. Research is
showing that even after ending a hormonal contraceptive method, SHBG levels
remain elevated and no reliable data exists to predict when this phenomenon will
Testosterone and menstrual cycle
A woman's desire for sex is correlated to her menstrual cycle, with many
women experiencing a heightened sexual desire in the several days immediately
This cycle has been associated with changes in a woman's testosterone levels
during the menstrual cycle. According to Gabrielle Lichterman, testosterone
levels have a direct impact on a woman's interest in sex. According to her,
testosterone levels rise gradually from about the 24th day of a woman's
menstrual cycle until ovulation on about the 14th day of the next cycle, and
during this period the woman's desire for sex increase consistently. The 13th
day is generally the day with the highest testosterone levels. In the week
following ovulation, the testosterone level is the lowest and as a result women
will experience less interest in sex.
Also, during the week following ovulation, progesterone levels increase,
resulting in a woman experiencing difficulty achieving orgasm. Although the last
days of the menstrual cycle are marked by a constant testosterone level, women's
libido may boost as a result of the thickening of the uterine lining which
stimulates nerve endings and makes a woman feel aroused. Also, during these
days, estrogen levels also decline, resulting in a decrease of natural
Although some specialists disagree with this theory, menopause is still
considered by the majority a factor that can cause decreased sex desire in
women. The levels of estrogen decrease at menopause and this usually causes a
lower interest in sex and vaginal dryness which makes intercourse painful. Also,
the levels of testosterone increase at menopause and this is why some women may
experience a contrary effect, of an increased libido.
Sexual desire disorders
There is no measure of what is a healthy level for sex desire. Some people
want to have sex every day, or more than once a day; others once a year or not
at all. However, a person who lacks a desire for sexual activity for some period
of time may be experiencing a hypoactive sexual desire disorder or may be
asexual. A sexual desire disorder is more common in women, but rare in men.
Erectile dysfunction is more common in men and may be a cause for the lack of
sexual desire, but with which it should not be confused. Moreover, specialists
have brought to attention that libido impairment may not even occur in cases of
men with erectile dysfunction.
Physical changes in the vagina that affect libido
At some point in their lives, approximately 50% of women experience thinning,
tightening, dryness, and atrophy (a decrease in muscle mass) in the vulva and
vagina. These changes can cause irritation, soreness, itching, and severe pain
during sex, as well as embarrassing urinary frequency and urgency. Due to which
low libido may occur in women.
Effects of stress on sex drive
Most of us know that chronic stress isn’t healthy, but we may not realize the
toll it takes on libido. The body interprets ongoing stress as life threatening,
so naturally, survival is prioritized ahead of pleasure. Stress over-burdens the
adrenal glands, “stealing” the substances normally used to make estrogens and
testosterone, both vital to desire and sexual response.