Author: Dr Peter England, Obstetrician and Gyneacologist
Libido is a curious thing to try and define. Put simply, libido can be described as an individual person’s sex drive, or desire for sexual activity. Men and women are different in countless ways, despite being genetically different by only one chromosome, the gender difference is associated with varying influences on libido.
Other factors can affect libido in positive or negative ways for both women and men.
Which hormones affect libido for women?
Primarily, libido is regulated hormonally by testosterone and dopamine.
Many women are not aware that they produce testosterone in their bodies. It is normal to produce testosterone from the ovaries during your reproductive life and to a lesser extent from the adrenal gland.
Dopamine is produced in your brain as a neurotransmitter between brain cells and it’s responsible for pleasure stimuli in the brain.
Oestrogen is generally a positive hormone, whereas progesterone is a negative. Leading to a natural flux with libido in a woman’s menstrual cycle.
So it’s no surprise that approaching ovulation is the time of high serum oestrogen and testosterone levels (and low progesterone) in a woman’s bloodstream.
That’s why libido typically peaks mid-cycle, all other factors being equal.
Is it impacted by my lifestyle choices?
Yes. Your lifestyle and what’s happening in your life will often impact your libido.
Major issues that affect libido in a good or bad way can be:
- family issues,
- and a person’s innate personality.
Age is obviously a factor: for women, your sex drive will commence during puberty, vary throughout the reproductive years and, to a variable degree, lessen postmenopausally.
Being excessively busy (and tired) at stages of life e.g. young children and busy career is normal for most people at some point. However, this may result in reduced libido and loss of intimacy between a couple.
Impact of drugs and medication on your sex drive?
Lifestyle factors including alcohol intake can be an issue.
A small amount of alcohol can be a positive effect for libido making some people a little more relaxed. Conversely, heavy persistent drinking will gradually lessen sexual desire and performance.
Drug use is problematic: some recreational drugs stimulate dopamine release in the brain causing intense sexual desire but at the same time affect actual physical sexual performance and inhibit ability to achieve orgasm. Cocaine and Ecstasy are examples of this effect.
Prescription medication can impair libido: some drugs used to treat depression and hypertension may impair libido. However untreated depression is associated with loss of libido generally, it’s complex!
For some women, the oral contraceptive pill can lower your desire for sex. This is caused by a rise in something called sex hormone-binding globulin, which binds testosterone and oestrogen, making them less available to the brain cell receptors. However, for other women, there is no effect, and the removal of fear of pregnancy the pill provides can be a boost.
When libido affects your relationship
Sexual desires are often an important factor in the formation and maintenance of intimate relationships in humans. Loss of sexual desire and reduced sexual activity in a long-term relationship can sometimes harm the quality and closeness of the relationship. Infidelity by one or other partner may be a sign of a change in sexual desire no longer being satisfied in the current relationship. Loss of communication about each partner’s sexual desires and preferences commonly compounds the situation.
What can I do if my libido is low?
Each woman’s situation is different. You should visit your doctor or gynaecologist and discuss the problem. A proper history and exploration of what is happening in your life can lead to solutions for you.
Once any issues or concerns are identified, discussion of strategies to reduce these stresses can begin.
I am menopausal, should I just accept low libido now?
In menopausal women, sometimes a change or cessation in medication can help.
Your doctor or gynaecologist can discuss the use of HRT and how that might help. There are also particularly safe and easily available testosterone supplements that may be beneficial. Discuss your personal circumstances with your doctor to find what works best for you.
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This article has been written by Dr Peter England – Expert Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Read more about Dr Peter England