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Apr 20, 2021
6 min read

What is libido and how does it relate to sex drive?

Libido is also known as your sex drive and each person has their own “normal” when it comes to sexual interest. Changes in libido, leading to a high or low sex drive, can be caused by health conditions, medications, and lifestyle changes. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing changes in your sex drive that are causing challenges in your life. There are options to help.

steve silvestro

Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Libido is used to describe your sexual desire for or fantasies about sexual activities. Physical health, mental health, hormone balance, stress, and relationship satisfaction all affect libido.

If you have concerns about your sexual drive or sexual function, you are not alone. Your sexual interest will change throughout your life. If you think your libido has dropped too low or grown a little too active, it may be time to contact your healthcare provider.

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What is a healthy libido?

There is no exact level for a healthy sex drive. It’s normal for libido to be different for every person, and it’s nothing to worry about if yours is higher or lower than your partner’s unless that is causing stress for you.

Your libido is an essential part of your health and well-being. An active sex life benefits your physical health, mental health, and quality of life (Brody, 2010; Mollaioli, 2021).

Every person has their own normal, healthy libido level. Your libido can fluctuate for many reasons, and we’ll discuss them below.

Causes of low libido

A low sex drive is a decreased interest from your regular sex drive. You can expect your libido to change throughout your life. But if it’s been low for a while or is causing strain with your sexual partner, it’s time to examine what might be going on and what you can do to address the issue. Lifestyle changes, health conditions, hormone changes, and physical changes can all be responsible for low sexual desire. Let’s look at some common causes. 

Medical conditions

Many medical conditions can lead to changes in your sexual desire:

  • Heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes affect the health of your blood vessels and decrease the blood flow to your genitals, lowering your sexual function (Merghati-Khoei, 2016).
  • Prostate cancer reduces sexual desire, and treatment for prostate cancer can affect testosterone levels and increase erectile dysfunction (Hyun, 2012).
  • Hypogonadism is a condition that impacts a man’s ability to produce enough testosterone, and low testosterone levels can lead to erectile dysfunction (Rastrelli, 2018).
  • Thyroid disease (hypo- and hyperthyroidism) affects libido in both men and women. Both erectile function and ejaculation can also be affected by thyroid disease (Gabrielson, 2019).
  • Medications, such as antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, and diuretics, can lower sex drive and function (Merghati-Khoei, 2016; Thakurdesai, 2018).

Hormonal changes

In both men and women, hormone fluctuations can have an impact on libido. 

  • Menopause is when menstrual cycles permanently stop, and estrogen levels drop. After menopause, many women experience low sex drive, vaginal dryness, and increased pain during sex (Scavello, 2019).
  • Men’s testosterone levels naturally start to decrease as they age, starting at around 30. Declining testosterone hormone levels negatively impact your libido and sexual function (Spitzer, 2013).

Mental health

Sexual desire (or lack thereof) is closely linked with a person’s mental and emotional state. 

  • Anxiety and depression commonly cause changes in sexual function and libido (Thakuresai, 2018).
  • High stress levels are associated with decreased sexual interest, especially in women (Raisanen, 2018).
  • Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is a condition affecting women that causes loss of sexual fantasies and desire (Parish, 2016).

Lifestyle factors

Countless lifestyle factors can impact libido. 

  • A sedentary lifestyle and obesity can impact body image and lower libido (Esfahani, 2018).
  • Alcohol and drug use decreases sexual desire and satisfaction (Vallejo-Medina, 2012).
  • Relationship satisfaction plays a role in sexual desire and satisfaction (Vowels, 2020).

Treating low libido

Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what is lowering your sex drive. Asking for help from professionals can make it easier to identify the cause of your low libido and create a plan to increase it.

If a health condition is causing your low sex drive, your healthcare provider may need to change your medication or run some tests to get answers.

If a low testosterone level causes your low sex drive and erectile function, your doctor may recommend testosterone replacement therapy. Testosterone therapy has been shown to help with men’s sexual desire and sexual health if their testosterone levels are below normal (Rastrelli, 2018).

You can also give your sex drive a boost by making lifestyle changes and building a deeper connection with your partner.

High libido

A libido that’s too high is less common than a low sex drive, but it can happen.

Your sex drive is considered too high if it starts to get in the way of other areas of your life. Compulsive or out-of-control behaviors can add stress to your relationships and cause problems in your work life.

Here are some signs of an excessively high sex drive (Derbyshire, 2015):

  • You’ve attempted to limit or stop sexual activities but feel out of control.
  • Your sex life is negatively impacting other areas such as your health, relationships, work, etc.
  • You feel dependent or reliant on sexual activities.
  • You use sex to escape from problems or emotions such as anger, stress, depression, loneliness, or anxiety.
  • You feel little to no satisfaction from sex.
  • Your sexual behavior is interfering with establishing stable intimate relationships.

Causes of high sex drive

Overly high sex drive or compulsive sexual behavior is still poorly understood. Potential causes of an increased sexual desire include (Derbyshire, 2015):

  • Some medical conditions, especially diseases affecting the brain, such as Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Kleine-Levin syndrome, can increase libido.
  • Some medications, such as dopamine antagonists used for Parkinson’s disease or gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) used to treat narcolepsy, can increase your sexual desire.
  • Drug use, such as cocaine or methamphetamines (meth), could increase sex drive.

Treating high libido

If your high sex drive negatively impacts your life, it might be time to talk with your healthcare provider. Working with a therapist and managing medication could help you address your unruly sex drive and establish healthy intimate relationships.

Asking for help

It can be embarrassing when your sex drive isn’t where you want it to be but know that you aren’t alone. Many people have challenges with their libido.

Whether your sex drive is higher or lower than you would like it to be, talk with your healthcare provider for advice and guidance to get your sex drive back to where you want it to be.  

References

  1. Brody, S. (2010). The relative health benefits of different sexual activities. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(4), 1336-1361. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01677.x. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01677.x#ss41
  2. Derbyshire, K. L., & Grant, J. E. (2015). Compulsive Sexual Behavior: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4(2), 37–43. doi: 10.1556/2006.4.2015.003. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4500883/
  3. Esfahani, S. B., & Pal, S. (2018). Obesity, Mental Health, and Sexual Dysfunction: A Critical Review. Health Psychology Open, 5(2), 2055102918786867. doi: 10.1177/2055102918786867. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6047250/
  4. Gabrielson, A. T., Sartor, R. A., & Hellstrom, W. (2019). The Impact of Thyroid Disease on Sexual Dysfunction in Men and Women. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 7(1), 57–70. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2018.05.002. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30057137/
  5. Hyun, J. S. (2012). Prostate Cancer and Sexual Function. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 30(2), 99–107. doi: 10.5534/wjmh.2012.30.2.99. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23596596/
  6. Merghati-Khoei, E., Pirak, A., Yazdkhasti, M., & Rezasoltani, P. (2016). Sexuality and Elderly with Chronic Diseases: A Review of the Existing Literature. Journal of Research In Medical Sciences : The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 21, 136. doi: 10.4103/1735-1995.196618. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5348839/
  7. Mollaioli, D., Sansone, A., Ciocca, G., Limoncin, E., Colonnello, E., Di Lorenzo, G., & Jannini, E. A. (2021). Benefits of Sexual Activity on Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Breakout. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(1), 35–49. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.10.008. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7584428/
  8. Parish, S. J., & Hahn, S. R. (2016). Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder: A Review of Epidemiology, Biopsychology, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 4(2), 103–120. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2015.11.009. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27872021/
  9. Raisanen, J. C., Chadwick, S. B., Michalak, N., & van Anders, S. M. (2018). Average Associations Between Sexual Desire, Testosterone, and Stress in Women and Men Over Time. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(6), 1613–1631. doi: 10.1007/s10508-018-1231-6. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29845444/
  10. Rastrelli, G., Corona, G., & Maggi, M. (2018). Testosterone and sexual function in men. Maturitas, 112, 46–52. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2018.04.004. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29704917/
  11. Scavello, I., Maseroli, E., Di Stasi, V., & Vignozzi, L. (2019). Sexual Health in Menopause. Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania), 55(9), 559. doi: 10.3390/medicina55090559. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31480774/
  12. Spitzer, M., Huang, G., Basaria, S., Travison, T. G., & Bhasin, S. (2013). Risks and Benefits of Testosterone Therapy in Older Men. Nature reviews. Endocrinology, 9(7), 414–424. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2013.73. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23591366/
  13. Thakurdesai, A., & Sawant, N. (2018). A Prospective Study on Sexual Dysfunctions in Depressed Males and the Response to Treatment. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(4), 472–477. doi: 10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_386_17. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6278224/
  14. Vallejo-Medina, P., & Sierra, J. C. (2013). Effect of Drug Use and Influence of Abstinence on Sexual Functioning in a Spanish Male Drug-dependent Sample: A Multisite Study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(2), 333–341. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02977.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23095213/
  15. Vowels, L. M., & Mark, K. P. (2020). Strategies for Mitigating Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(3), 1017–1028. doi: 10.1007/s10508-020-01640-y. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7058563/