The Science Behind a Lower Libido

A low libido, or low sex drive, is a common experience for most people at some time in their lives. There are many different factors that can cause lowered libido, ranging from physical, emotional, medical or psychological reasons.

The good news is that, while fluctuations in libido are perfectly normal, if you’re experiencing lowered sexual desire, you can do something about it. Being aware of lifestyle factors that could be negatively impacting you can help you make changes to increase your libido again. 

Let’s have a look at some of the most common contributors:

Alcohol

Long-term, consistent alcohol use is known to cause sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction in alcoholics may be due to the depressant effect of alcohol, an alcohol-related disease, or due to psychological forces related to alcohol use. Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other disturbances in sexual function and erectile dysfunction in alcoholic males and it has found to be significantly greater in men consuming over 3 standard drinks daily. 

What can you do? Aim to enjoy a few more alcohol free nights per week! Swap your alcoholic beverages with kombucha, sparkling water with lime or mocktails! 

Stress

Cortisol (the stress hormone) has been shown to raise blood pressure and blood sugar levels. When we feel stress, fear or tension, our sympathetic nervous system activity increases relative to our parasympathetic nervous system activity. This can cause lowered libido in men and women. Also, erectile dysfunction may occur in males when cortisol levels are high.

What can you do? Focus on stress relief techniques. Enjoy yoga, meditation, walks in nature, catch ups with friends and less screen time. 

Low Testosterone

Testosterone helps to initiate sexual activity and increases sexual desire and behaviour. Testosterone is a hormone that is important in regulating the physiology of the vagina, to facilitate lubrication and sensation. Inadequate testosterone has been shown to contribute to low libido and reduced sexual pleasure, sexual motivation and general sense of wellbeing.

What can you do? Ensure you’re eating enough, sleeping 7-8 hours per night, practicing stress-relief and get 15-20 minutes of sunlight daily for a natural dose of vitamin D to support healthy hormone levels.

Physical Activity

Physical inactivity can lead to an increasing number of individuals with sexual dysfunctions (43% of men and 31% of women). Small bouts of exercise can significantly improve sexual function and satisfaction. This may encourage sedentary individuals with a sexual dysfunction to begin moving their body. 

What can you do? Movement is key! Find a way of moving your body that you love and make it part of your regular lifestyle. You may like to go for a run with a friend, enjoy a boxing class, swim or practice yoga. Whatever it is, aim to move your body for at least 30 minutes a day.

Undereating 

Low body weight is associated with loss of libido, sexual anxiety, and avoidance of sexual relationships. The greater the weight loss from a healthy range, the greater the loss of sexual enjoyment. Even though malnutrition may affect libido, other characteristics of under eating such as low confidence and body dissatisfaction can also compromise sexual function. 

What can you do? Ensure you’re eating balanced meals that include fibre-rich carbohydrates, quality fats, lean proteins and veggies! Practise positive self-talk and body image.

References:

AlAwlaqi A, Amor H, Hammadeh ME. Role of hormones in hypoactive sexual desire disorder and current treatment. J Turk Ger Gynecol Assoc. 2017;18(4):210-218.

Kobori Y, Koh E, Sugimoto K, et al. The relationship of serum and salivary cortisol levels to male sexual dysfunction as measured by the International Index of Erectile Function. Int J Impot Res. 2009;21(4):207-212. doi:10.1038/ijir.2009.14

Mendelson JH, Mello NK. Medical progress. Biologic concomitants of alcoholism. N Engl J Med. 1979 Oct 25;301(17):912-21. doi: 10.1056/NEJM197910253011704. PMID: 481538.

Mirone V, Ricci E, Gentile V, Basile Fasolo C, Parazzini F. Determinants of erectile dysfunction risk in a large series of Italian men attending andrology clinics. Eur Urol. 2004 Jan;45(1):87-91. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2003.08.005. PMID: 14667522.

Jiannine LM. An investigation of the relationship between physical fitness, self-concept, and sexual functioning. J Educ Health Promot. 2018;7:57. Published 2018 May 3. 

Pinheiro AP, Raney TJ, Thornton LM, Fichter MM, Berrettini WH, Goldman D, Halmi KA, Kaplan AS, Strober M, Treasure J, Woodside DB, Kaye WH, Bulik CM. Sexual functioning in women with eating disorders. Int J Eat Disord. 2010 Mar;43(2):123-9.