The main points
- Libido is the sexual instinct or erotic desire and pleasure.
- Many people will experience low libido or changes in libido at some time in their lives.
- Changes in libido can occur due to life changes, hormonal fluctuations, medication, medical problems, psychological reasons, relationship quality and lifestyle.
- There is no ‘normal’ level of desire. It is common for partners to have different levels of desire. See a health professional if your libido level is concerning you or is negatively impacting your quality of life.
What is libido
Libido is the sexual instinct or erotic desire and pleasure. Your libido is sometimes referred to as your 'sex drive'. Libido varies from person to person and can be influenced by various factors. Loss or reduction of libido can be experienced at any age. It may result in a reduced desire to have sex and/or sexual experiences that are no longer satisfying or pleasurable.
Many people will experience low libido at some time in their life. This may be over a long time or short term, such as after the birth of a baby, during a stressful life period or when a relationship is strained.
Low libido can become an issue in relationships when one partner wants sex more often than another. This is called ‘desire discrepancy’ and can cause conflict and unhappiness..
What affects libido
It's normal for desire to fluctuate and there may be many reasons for this.
Some of the reasons for libido changes include:
Changes in hormone levels
- during pregnancy
- after childbirth
- when breastfeeding/chestfeeding
- during the menstrual cycle
- during menopause
- due to the normal ageing process
Medications such as antidepressants and some oral contraceptive pills may affect libido.
A lack of rest, relaxation, recreation and suitable exercise may affect libido. Drug and alcohol use may affect libido.
These psychological influences can each affect libido by making you feel negative and/or hesitant about having sex:
- Depression and anxiety
- Poor body image
- Feelings of resentment, shame or guilt about sex
- Past experiences of sex including abuse and trauma.
Relationships can have a big influence on libido. If your relationship is having difficulties and/or the sexual intercourse you are having is causing distress or discomfort it is difficult to feel sexually inclined towards your partner or partners and your willingness to engage in sex will be reduced. Relationship influences include:
- End of the 'honeymoon' period of the relationship
- Being time-poor or feeling too tired/fatigued for sex
- Poor sexual compatibility or partner sexual problems
- Experiencing problems other than sexual such as financial issues.
Medical conditions that can influence libido include:
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- a uterine or vaginal prolapse
- anaemia due to fatigue
- hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
- kidney failure
- infections (such as thrush or urinary tract)
- erectile and ejaculatory conditions
- pelvic pain
- chronic pain conditions.
Some of these conditions can lead to painful sex (dyspareunia) or involuntary spasms of the pelvic floor muscles ('vaginismus') that reduce the desire for sex.
How can you manage and treat low libido?
There is no ‘normal’ level of desire for sexual intercourse. However, if your libido level worries you or is very different from your partner's and this causes you concern, there are several things you can do to improve the situation. Finding a solution to the problem involves determining what may be affecting your libido and then trying strategies to manage these factors. The most important thing to remember is that just because one person in the relationship has a lower level of libido than the other, this doesn't mean there is something wrong with either person. It is when the difference in libido is causing problems that you may need to seek help to manage the issue.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle by being physically active, eating a healthy diet and reducing your alcohol and drug intake
- Find ways to reduce stress and take time out to relax regularly
- Improving communication between you and your partner
- Exploring that sex is not only penetrative intercourse but includes touching, kissing, holding, trusting and/or oral stimulation. Talk about this with your partner.
If your libido is causing you concern you may want to seek advice from a health professional, with your partner if appropriate. Some of the following can help:
- Treatment for any underlying illness or medical condition
- Lifestyle changes
- Hormone therapy (if appropriate)
- Medication for erectile or ejaculatory conditions
- Medication changes
- Antidepressants (certain antidepressants may be more suitable, others can reduce libido)
- Stress management
- Relationship counselling if appropriate and safe
- Counselling with a therapist who specialised in sexual concerns.
Where to get more information and support
- Sexual Health Victoria
- A doctor or nurse
- A gynaecologist
- A sexual therapist
- A psychologist
- A urologist
- Your local community health service
- Jean Hailes
- Healthy Male
- Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health - for culturally and linguistically diverse women.
- The Women's (The Royal Women’s Hospital)