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3 causes of low libido

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What is libido?

If you're confused about what libido is and means, you're not alone. Scientists are still actively debating this question. Over the years, there have been several beliefs regarding libido such as Freud's and Jung's interpretation of libido as 'psychic energy'. In our modern age, libido is usually defined as sexual interest and the degree to which we respond to sexual stimuli. However, treating it only as such would be an oversimplification.

Difference between sexual desire and arousal

First of all, it is important to distinguish between sexual desire and arousal.

Sexual desire

Sexual desire is typically viewed as an interest in sexual activities. More precisely, it is the subjective feeling of wanting to engage in sex. This feeling can differ from one person to the next and therefore there's no such thing as a 'normal' libido. Sexual desire originates in different parts of the brain and is strongly influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine. In turn, dopamine is influenced by hormones such as testosterone.

Sexual arousal

Sexual arousal is caused by sexual desire, but it's not the same thing. Arousal is something that happens in the body during or in anticipation of sexual activity. It is controlled by the nervous system, which causes blood to flow to the genitals, causing them to swell, and it also stimulates the heart and smooth muscle tissue. In turn, the nervous system responds to sensory stimuli, such as images, smell and touch.

To make matters even more complicated, personal expectations, prior experiences and social behaviour can also influence sexual desire and arousal.

Difference between men and women

The molecular processes involved in the regulation of sexual desire and arousal are different in both sexes. Unfortunately, female libido is still a mystery to a large extent. It has not been researched as much, although it is more complex. The phases of a woman's menstrual cycle can and often do have an impact on libido. Most women feel a surge in sexual desire right before ovulation. Childbearing and the menopause are known to decrease libido.

What is low libido?

In the simplest of terms, low libido is when there is minimal to no sexual interest and desire. This, in turn, can lead to decreased sexual activity. So how do you know if you’ve got a high or low libido or if it’s perfectly normal? You cannot analyse the health of your libido without factoring in what the norm, or average, is. The reality is that people are not always honest about their libidos (or loss of it). But you can assume that young people in the first two years of their relationship, on average, have sex 12 or 13 times a month. Then the average drops significantly: in long-term relationships (five years or more), the average is 8 to 10 times a month, which is about twice a week.

What causes low libido?

Now that we know more about the biological factors that influence libido, low libido in men and women is seen as a medical condition that can be treated. However, not everyone agrees with this. This is because libido naturally decreases over time as we age, starting from puberty in men and in women from their mid-thirties.

Sometimes, however, there could be an underlying cause for low libido. (And then there are also the stereotypes that say that women have lower libidos than men.) There are many different factors that can adversely affect libido (so-called libido killers). So, it's completely normal for young, healthy people to experience bouts of low libido. Low libido can be caused by many varied factors, both psychological, relational and hormonal.

  1. Psychological
    The most common psychological causes of low libido include stress, personality disorders and psychological disorders, such as depression.
  1. Emotional
    Low libido can also be caused by emotional factors. Relationship problems, for instance, are known to be a major factor. Lifestyle habits, such as alcohol or drug use or too little or too much exercise, can also affect libido.
  1. Hormonal
    Testosterone has a primary role in controlling male sexual desire and arousal. Other 'love hormones' are serotonin, oxytocin and oestrogen. Everything that influences these hormones or neurotransmitters has an effect on libido as well.

Libido can be affected by medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), vascular disease and diabetes. Problems such as erectile dysfunction in men, or vaginal pain in women, can also lead to a decrease in desire. Some medications are known to cause low libido, including antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, beta blockers and statins. It is also quite common after having a complete hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries for women to feel a loss of libido.

How to boost libido?

Low libido can become an issue, especially in relationships. Sex offers a way to connect with another person and can help you feel emotional intimacy. In turn, relationship problems can affect mental health. So, what can you do to increase libido?

Increasing male libido

Recently, a lot of medical research has been done on a drug to treat low libido in men. Testosterone replacement has also shown consistent benefit in improving libido in men. Nevertheless, testosterone therapy in men with testosterone deficiency is no longer recommended, as there is not sufficient data on the possibility of long-term effects and serious side effects.

Increasing female libido

Testosterone therapy has also been tested in women. However, the research results were disappointing: the therapy had little to no effect on libido.

Several other studies have been conducted, but so far a treatment for women with low libido has not yet been found.

Libido-boosting foods and nutritional supplements

There are claims that certain foods and supplements can increase libido. However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims, although this is partly due to the fact that virtually no research has been conducted to date.

Lifestyle

Unfortunately, there is no safe, permanent and one-time treatment to increase libido. For most people, who do not have an underlying medical condition that is causing low libido, treatment focuses on making lifestyle changes (moderating alcohol consumption and incorporating exercise in to day-to-day life), in combination with therapy or couples counselling.

Do you suffer from low libido? Don't throw in the towel. Have you talked to your doctor about treatment options?

Don't despair! Talk to a doctor about treatment options.

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