Loss of libido & low sex drive

What does ‘loss of libido’ or ‘low sex drive’ really mean?

Loss of libido or low sex drive is a phrase that people often use to describe a change in their level of sexual desire, usually within the context of a relationship. It is really common for people to worry about low libido, and we know from large scale research in the UK that approximately 34% of women and 15% of men have experienced this for at least three months or more in the last year. (NATSAL data, 2013).

There is no scientifically agreed definition of ‘normal’ sex drive or libido, so in some ways it’s odd when we talk about it being ‘low’. The key thing is, not feeling like sex is only a problem if it feels like a problem to you or in your relationship.

What are the causes of low libido or low sex drive?

There are a range of factors which affect our sex drive or libido and can contribute to how it fluctuates over time. Here’s a breakdown of some of the key ones:

The natural ebb and flow of desire

Sexual desire is not something we are born with or always have the same amount of but something which we experience more or less at different times, within relationships, depending on what else is going on in our lives, health and relationships. It can be useful to be aware of this and research tells us that couples who share a belief that it’s ‘normal’ for desire to ebb and flow tend to rate their sexual satisfaction as higher as well as manage times of low sexual activity.

The impact of our health, lifestyle and relationships

Our sex lives are a complex interaction of what’s happening in our heads, our bodies and our relationships and sexual desire (or libido) is just one manifestation of this. See below for some examples of what kinds of things can influence our sexual desire.

  • Bodies -the impact of chronic health conditions/poor health, the side effects of prescribed medications, experiencing chronic pain, being pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Minds - being distracted by other concerns, worries about sex, body image concerns, depression or anxiety, the impact of trauma and abuse
  • In our lives and relationships - having young children, relationship dissatisfaction, experiencing life stressors, finding it hard to communicate with a partner about sex

For some of these (for example being the parents of young children), it’s important to not worry too much about this change, give each other time and communicate about how youre feeling until things change. For others (for example poor health), it might be useful to talk to your GP about ways in which improving your physical health by drinking less alcohol, stopping smoking or exercising more might improve your sexual function.

Unhelpful expectations

We have long been socialised into an idea by cultural messages and what we see in the media that desire and sex should happen for all of us, spontaneously and require little effort. Because of this we judge our own desire or sex lives to be substandard and worry why this is (‘Is there something wrong with me? With our relationship?’). The truth is what we’ve been led to believe about desire is often inaccurate. For example, for a large proportion of women in long term relationships, feeling little or no spontaneous desire is normal, and instead we need to think of desire as something that needs to be triggered rather than something which occurs ‘out of the blue’.


What are the treatments for low libido or loss of sex drive?

There are things you can do to improve or address your concerns about low sexual desire. The first is to ensure there are no physical reasons behind a change in desire. Talking through what’s happening with your sex life with the person treating you for a long term health condition or prescribing you medication is a good first step.

Having a physical check up including blood tests to rule out problems with hormones can be useful. You can see your GP to raise any concerns you have about sex, but we realise that this can be a daunting prospect for some people. The knowledge and experience it requires to assess sexual problems can be complex, so it can be beneficial to see a doctor who has specialist training in sexual medicine. See here for our recommended independent doctors.

Once a physical cause has been ruled out, you can then be sure that other changes to your life or relationships will make a difference. Consider learning more about how sexual desire works with our online workshop so that you can start to implement changes in your life and relationships that make a difference.

"The understanding that I have gained of female desire from this course has been a bit of a lightbulb moment. It has been an issue within my husband and I’s relationship for a couple years now but it’s all starting to make sense and it has been quite a comfort to know we are not alone. It has stopped us going round in circles and opened up the conversation about sex again, and how we are both going to achieve a more positive experience. I feel more confident expressing my needs/wants as it seems to be backed up by science. So we seem to be in a happier place than we have been for months."      - Workshop participant                                                                                                                                                                                                            

If you prefer to see someone one on one from the outset, sex therapy is really effective to help couples navigate differences in desire and find a way forward with sex that fits for them both and helps them prioritise triggering desire in their relationships. In an initial consultation with Dr Michael Yates or Dr Karen Gurney we will discuss with you all of the ways in which we can help. An initial consultation is a way for you to learn more about the process and receive advice before committing to therapy.

If you are interested in talking more with one of our team about the difficulties you are facing with desire and how we can help use this button to book an appointment, or phone or e mail us to talk more.