We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. This week’s topic: reasons you libido might be lower than usual.
Q: I’m freaking out, because I've realized that I’m not as into sex as I used to be. Seriously, I used to be excited about sex (not any more than normal I don’t think, but definitely excited about getting it on with people I liked) but now I just can’t get into it. What could be happening to me — can your libido just disappear? I'm not sure if anything major has changed in my life, so I can't explain it. Help, I want it back!
A: We all go through periods of being more or less excited about sex. Your libido rises and falls with your hormone levels during your menstrual cycle, with your libido highest during ovulation and lowest on the first day of your period. This is totally normal! So if your libido dip has just been going on for a few days, it may behoove you to wait until you’ve completed an entire menstrual cycle before you flip out.
But for some people, this lack of interest lasts for way longer and disrupts their lives. At any given time, up to 39 percent of female-identified folks will report low sexual desire. In its most severe case, this is called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. HSDD can persist for years and affects around 12 percent of humans with female reproductive systems.
I’m not a doctor and so I can’t diagnose you with HSDD or even any form of sexual desire disorder (the more generic form of just not feeling it) so if you’re worried about your libido, go talk to your doctor. However, there are some things you might be doing that are the cause of your low desire. Here are the main culprits, and what to do about them.
Culprit #1: You’re On The Pill
Lowered sex drive is a documented side effect of being on the birth control pill. It doesn’t happen to everyone who uses oral contraception, but with anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of pill-users complaining about it, it’s definitely a real side effect.
Why Is This Happening To Me? Researchers don’t know for sure, but they hypothesize that it’s due to a decrease in androgens on the Pill, which are male sex hormones (think testosterone). These androgens are linked to female libido, specifically insofar as they are related to the blood flow that makes your genitals sensitive and ready to go, as well as to the intensity of your orgasms. Some birth control pills lower your body’s androgen production; specifically look out for pills that contain estrogen, because they are prime androgen depleters.
How To Fix It: If your lowered libido is pill-related, you can try out a different pill — not all of them have been found to have this side effect. You can also talk to your doctor about the experimental use of androgens. It’s not FDA approved yet, but it’s being used off-label to boost libidos.
Culprit #2: You’re Struggling With Depression
If you’re dealing with depression, there’s a good chance you’re also contending with a lowered sex drive. Five percent of humans are thought to have depression, and around 70 percent of those also experience low libido.
Why Is This Happening To Me? Desire starts in your brain, with your genitals relying on brain chemicals to jumpstart your libido and orchestrate the blood flow that makes them swell and get ready for action. Depression messes with these chemicals, which can hinder both being excited about sex and actually engaging in the act.
How To Fix It: Treating your depression is the first step to solving your sexual challenges, and luckily there are medications that can help you get on top of your feelings of darkness. Unfortunately it’s not that simple, which leads us to...
Culprit #3: You’re On Antidepressants
In a cruel twist of fate, some antidepressant medication is also well-known to make you feel less excited about sex. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why people go off or change their meds, and is reported by anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of users.
Why Is This Happening To Me? Researchers are still figuring out why depression happens and how the antidepressant medications we use help to fix it, so it should come as no surprise that they also don’t exactly know how antidepressants affect desire. However, what they hypothesize is that the low libido side effects are affected by multiple brain pathways, including an increase in serotonin and decrease in dopamine. Specifically, serotonin is understood to decrease both desire and the ability to orgasm. Since many antidepressants currently on the market affect your serotonin levels (SSRIs), this is a good guess for why you may be feeling less sexual when you’re on these medications.
How To Fix It: Luckily, some antidepressant medications are more likely to have this side effect than others, so you can talk to your doctor to switch up your meds. Lowering your dosage can also help, as can taking your pill after you have sex so that your levels are lowest right when you’re getting it on. Just make sure to discussing any of these changes with your doctor, because messing with your meds on your lonesome can make matters worse.
Culprit #4: You Have High Blood Pressure, Or You’re On Blood Pressure Meds
Ugh, not another one where both the health challenge and the treatment can cause sexual challenges! Humans with penises who have high blood pressure are known to experience erectile dysfunction, and studies have found that if you have high blood pressure and a vagina, you’re twice as likely to deal with low libido. With around 78 million people in the United States struggling with high pressure, this is a very real challenge.
Why Is This Happening To Me? The connection between sexual dysfunction and blood pressure isn’t completely understood. (Do I sound like a broken record yet?) What scientists do know is that arousal and orgasm are related to blood flow to your clitoris and vagina.
How To Fix It: The good news is that there are medications to lower blood pressure. The complicated news is that some blood pressure medications can also lower your libido, specifically causing vaginal dryness, decreased desire, and difficulty orgasming. So definitely talk to your doctor to make sure she puts you on one of the blood pressure meds that is less likely to cause these side effects.
Culprit #5: You’re Anemic
Anemia is common in humans with periods, because we lose iron when we menstruate. Between nine and 12 percent of persons with periods of the non-Hispanic White persuasion have anemia, and that goes up to nearly 20 percent in those who are Black/African American and Hispanic. One of the primary symptoms of anemia (along with the more commonly known ones like fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and irritability) is a lowered sex drive.
Why Is This Happening To Me? Feeling less excited about sex is often caused by just being too exhausted to get excited. Those with anemia are often fatigued — so tired that they just aren’t as into sex.
How To Fix It: Iron pills are available over the counter and can boost your levels of this critical element — and what’s going on between your sheets (or wherever you bang). If you think you might be anemic, it's important to see a doctor and have your blood tested in order to develop a course of action.
Culprit #6: You’re Stressed
"Stress" is a word we throw around a lot in our society, but it’s a real thing with serious health consequences. In fact, stress is an underlying cause of an estimated 60 percent of all human illness. It can also lower your libido.
Why Is This Happening To Me? Stress triggers what’s called your fight or flight response, wherein your body goes into overdrive to help you respond to a potentially dangerous situation. Part of this reaction includes the release of a bunch of hormones into your system, specifically cortisol and epinephrine, which you probably know as adrenaline. If your body doesn’t quit this hormone release because the perceived threat doesn’t go away (because, for instance, it’s your full time job or a financial situation that takes a while to resolve), you end up with chronic stress, which is when your body is always in fight or flight mode and never goes into relaxation mode. These elevated levels of stress hormones can interfere with the hormones that orchestrate your sexual response.
How To Fix It: There are a ton of things you can do to reduce your stress. These can include actually removing the cause of the stress (quitting your awful job, setting up a payment plan), as well as lifestyle changes such as exercise or meditation. It’s up to you to figure out how best to zen out!
Culprit #7: You’re Having Trouble In Your Relationship
Sometimes you’re just not into your partner anymore. It can be hard to know when this is the culprit, or whether you’re just dealing with a relationship slump.
Why Is This Happening To Me? Sexual desire is not so easily divorced from emotions. If you’re not feeling it in your head and your heart, your pussy is unlikely to get excited all on her own. Also, if you’re starting to feel less excited about sex than your partner, even if your current level of desire is totally normal, the differential can cause significant stress and make you feel like you’re in some way deficient, which can cause a feedback loop of stress (see above) and result in a lowering of desire.
How To Fix It: If you’re really not feeling your partner, maybe you don’t want to be with them anymore. If that’s not you and you want to work on your relationship, sex therapy and couples counseling are both great ways to get help in identifying and working through the potential underlying causes of your current feelings of less-than-excitement.
The Bottom Line
Libido is extremely complicated. We are still learning exactly how desire works, and how the things that interfere with it actually do so. What’s important to remember is that many levels of desire are completely normal. If you’re feeling less excited about sex than usual, there may be something underlying going on that can be fixed. Or, you could just be going through a low moment, which will revert itself in time. It’s up to you to decide what level of desire is problematic for your life — no one else.
Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask.
Images: Unsplash, Giphy