By Emily Shoemaker | Greatist
Too high, too low, or juuust right? If your sex drive isn’t alive and kickin’, should you be concerned? Libido, a.k.a. sex drive, varies from person to person and between partners. While stereotypes definitely exist (think teenagers with raging hormones), sex drive is highly personal. In addition, depending on age, stress level, relationship status, etc., a person’s desire for sex can fluctuate. So how do you know if your libido is normal or out-of-whack? And if something is wrong, what can be done about it?
All About That Baseline
Sex therapist and New York Times bestselling author Ian Kerner, PhD, says that “normal is such an elastic word… it depends on what your baseline libido is.” He notes that while it might be normal for one person to desire sex once a day, it’s also completely normal for an asexual individual to have zero libido.
A significant deviation from the baseline is what’s ultimately a cause for concern. According to Kerner, a change in libido is only a problem when it’s a problem for you or for your partner. Sex and relationship expert Emily Morse notes that it’s not uncommon for couples to have mismatched libidos. There’s really no “normal” amount one should desire sex (or actually do the deed). Your libido is unique, as is everyone else’s. But if you feel it swinging up or down the scale, some factors could be at play.
If abnormally low libido is causing concern, it’s time to identify some potential causes. But keep in mind that different factors may affect different people (you guessed it…) differently.
Underlying medical and psychological issues can depress libido to the point of non-existence. Medical conditions such as cancer or other chronic illnesses, for example, can understandably sap a person’s desire for sex. Psychological problems can also contribute to a diminished sex drive. Depression is a common cause of sexual dysfunction, and the treatment of depression doesn’t help matters . Research shows that certain antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) tend to lower sexual arousal more than others . And given that some drugs have more possible side effects than actual effects, it’s not surprising that certain other medscan do so as well. For example, some women may experience decreased libido while on hormonal birth control, but reports aren’t consistent .
Other psychological troubles such as stress can put a damper on things . Ava Cadell, MD, author and founder of Loveology University, notes that common psychological issues of people who complain of low libido include depression, stress, post-baby blues, performance anxiety after not having sex for a long time, and poor self-image.
We blame hormones for everything from chocolate cravings to crazy mood swings. (And we’re pretty sure we can blame them for this pizza’s existence too.) In women, low androgen levels have been linked to low sex drive, but it’s not clear which one is the cause and which one is the effect . Some research suggests that certain hormones, such as testosterone, may also play a role in lowering or modifying sexual desire, but they are not the determining factor . Even if a woman’s hormones are all within normal ranges, she can still experience low libido. For men, it’s a bit more clear cut: if a man has low testosterone, his libido will likely suffer.
Comedian Louis C.K. said about his troubled marriage that men worry marriage equals sex with just one woman for the rest of life. “Where are you getting that twisted fantasy? You’re not gonna have sex with one woman. You’re gonna have sex with zero women.” Point being, if your relationship is rocky, your libido (or your partner’s) could also take a hit.
A whole range of relationship difficulties can contribute to low libido, according to Cadell. While pretty much anything that negatively affects a couple has the potential to limit lust, poor communication, anger, hurt feelings, or even boredom are common culprits. Kerner notes that poor libido is especially prevalent among couples recovering from infidelity—if the trust isn’t there, neither is the desire.
Other Life Factors
Already plotting tomorrow’s nap? Being overworked, short on time, fatigued, or all of the above tend to bump sex down on the list of priorities. New parents (yes, we’re calling a baby a “life factor”) may be especially susceptible. Who wants to have sex when running on three hours of sleep and dirty diaper fumes?
When it comes to sex, do you feel like a little kid at a birthday-cake free-for-all? That’s OK. Having an unusually high libido isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it can become an issue—known as hypersexuality, compulsive sexual behavior, or sexual addiction—if it leads to problems with a person’s sex life and life outside of sex. As with low libido, there are a number of things that can skyrocket your sex drive to an unhealthy place.