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libido saboteurs: young man tired in bed

6 Ways You’re Unintentionally Tanking Your Libido

If you’re a winter sports aficionado, you delight in plummeting temperatures. And if you’re on a weight-loss journey, it’s a win when the scale reports a lower number. However, most people aren’t quite as pleased when their libido takes a nose dive. 

“It’s normal for sexual desire to have some ebb and flow day-to-day, as well as across your lifespan,” says certified sex therapist Casey Tanner, L.C.P.C., C.S.T. However, a significant drop-off is uncommon, and usually a result of an untreated, underlying health issue or lifestyle change, they add.

The fact is, it’s quite common for people to make edits to their eating, drinking, exercise, and sleep habits without realizing just how drastic an effect they can have on their interest in getting it on. We’ve got the details on what makes for a healthy libido—and all the things you might be doing that are causing it to dip. 

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Rachel Wright, M.A., L.M.F.T., is a New York-based licensed psychotherapist, the host of The Wright Conversations podcast, and the creator of the Loving Your Libido online course. Justin Houman M.D., is a board-certified urologist who specializes in sexual health, infertility, and erectile dysfunction and is the Senior Medical Advisor at the sexual wellness platform, Cake. Ashley Winter M.D., is a board-certified urologist and a medical advisor for Marius Pharmaceuticals, a health organization helping individuals achieve healthy hormone levels. Casey Tanner, L.C.P.C., C.S.T., is a certified sex therapist and the founder of queer sex therapy practice The Expansive Group.

What A Healthy Libido Looks Like 

Libido, sometimes known as sex drive, is a non-specific measure of an individual’s interest in sex. While it’s often talked about using words like ‘high’ or’ low’, there is no official way to measure or quantify libido, like there is to measure blood pressure, heart rate, or testosterone levels, for example. Moreover, unlike these other health and wellness metrics, there is no clear scale for identifying a ‘normal or ‘healthy’ libido, according to Rachel Wright, M.A., L.M.F.T., a New York-based licensed psychotherapist, host of The Wright Conversations podcast, and creator of the Loving Your Libido online course.

Read More: 9 Natural Ways To Support Your Libido

While there is no universal ideal here, Wright notes that everyone has their own unique and personal normal. And this personal norm can be influenced by a complex interplay of physical, psychological, and emotional factors, says Justin Houman M.D., a board-certified urologist who specializes in sexual health, infertility, and erectile dysfunction and the Senior Medical Advisor at the sexual wellness platform, Cake. As such, any alterations in an individual’s mental, emotional, physical, or health state can drive their libido up or down.

Surprising Everyday Libido Saboteurs

How frequently or infrequently you want sex is not a reason to judge yourself, nor does it say anything about you as a person, says Wright. As long as how often you’re interested in (or having) sex is not negatively affecting your quality of life, you can consider it normal. 

Still, it is common for individuals to feel bummed when their libido goes south, and to seek out an understanding as to where their libido has gone. Here, find six common (but often sneaky) reasons behind your MIA sex drive.

1. Your Stress Levels Are Running Wild

High stress levels have become the assumed baseline, with 76 percent of individuals reporting that they have been overcome by stress and unable to cope at some point within the last year, according to the American Psychological Association. What many don’t realize is that stress can have a significant impact on their interest in sex. 

Physiologically, stress triggers the release of cortisol (the stress hormone), according to board-certified urologist Ashley Winter M.D., a medical advisor for Marius Pharmaceuticals, a health organization helping individuals achieve healthy hormone levels. The entire endocrine (hormone) system is interconnected, so when cortisol levels spike there is a cascade of hormonal responses in the body that can result in an individual experiencing less interest in sex, she says. One big one is a drop in testosterone levels, which can have an inverse effect on sexual desire, per research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Decreased testosterone levels suppress your sexual appetite, no matter your gender,” says Tanner. 

There’s a psychological reason stress decreases libido, too. “Stress also often leads to feelings of anxiety, worry, and emotional disconnection, all of which can diminish interest in sex,” says Winter. It makes sense that an individual’s interest in sex would go down when they are too busy thinking about impending deadlines and obligations. 

Read More: The Best And Worst Foods To Eat When You’re Stressed

When stress is blocking your desire, Winter says that any stress-reducing protocol (such as deep breathing and meditation) will help. However, in instances where the stress has become chronic, reclaiming your libido may require a more drastic lifestyle overhaul, including finding a way to work less or getting help with caregiving responsibilities. 

2. You Kick Back With Booze A Little Too Much

There’s an old wives’ tale that drinking red wine improves libido—and just a few decades ago, a glass of wine was exactly what the doctor ordered when patients reported sexual dysfunction, according to Houman. But that advice is misguided as alcohol actually dampens libido. 

Alcohol works on the body in a variety of ways that impact sex drive. For starters, the toxins affect central nervous system function, Winter says. As such, the brain cannot communicate with the nerves in the genitals as readily, which results in reduced sensation, as well as overall responsiveness to physical, mental, or emotional inputs.

Alcohol has also been shown to slow down brain function, breathing, and blood flow, all of which reduce sexual function amongst both women and men. In fact, one 2023 review published in the journal BMC Women’s Health found that alcohol decreases overall sexual function by a whopping 74 percent. The researchers reported that alcohol consumption, particularly when in high amounts, reduces vaginal lubrication as well the likelihood of orgasm. Both of these factors can make sex less enjoyable and make women less inclined to seek out sex at all, Tanner says.

Meanwhile, alcohol’s impact on testosterone has been shown to lower libido in men. Actually, researchers observed that men’s testosterone levels drop in 30 minutes or less after just one sip. They also reported that alcohol can damage the cells responsible for testosterone production, which leads to reduced testosterone levels—and therefore overall libido—in the long run. 

The exact route you take to cut back on booze will depend on your relationship with alcohol as well as how much you currently consume. If you are a casual partaker, you might start by doing a dry month or committing to opting for a non-alcoholic beverage half the time you’d normally reach for a beer. However, if alcohol usually makes a daily appearance in your routine, you might find the help of an additional counselor beneficial. One route is to reach out to the SAMHSA National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) for guidance. 

3. You’re a Smoker

Alcohol isn’t the only party substance that can make your libido dip—cigarettes can, too. 

“Smoking can significantly lower libido,” says Tanner. “Smoking has been shown to constrict blood flow to your sexual organs.” Of course, blood flow getting directed towards your bits is an essential step in the arousal process, and when blood flow is restricted an individual is less likely to feel aroused, which may translate to them marking their libido as low, they say. 

The lack of blood flow can also result in less sexual responsiveness in instances where you do have sex, says Tanner. Blood flow supports an individual’s ability to achieve an erection, as well as pelvic floor muscle contraction, they explain. Given that orgasms are essentially a series of pelvic floor contractions, the lack of blood flow effectively reduces the likelihood of hitting that peak. 

Of course, lack of libido and reduced sexual function aren’t the only areas of wellness that nosedive in response to a smoking habit. Smoking, after all, has been shown to cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Whatever the impetus for your quitting, the resources available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page can help. 

4. Your Movement Practice Has Been Lackluster

Whether it involves lacing up, throwing on a cap and goggles, strapping your feet into pedals, or wrapping your fists, regular exercise can make your libido and sex life more solid. 

“Moving your body increases blood flow and results in a release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters (like dopamine and endorphins),” says Tanner. “Both of these things work together to increase sexual desire and lower the barriers to arousal.” As such, adopting a regular exercise routine can help individuals who have gotten clearance from their healthcare provider experience a libido boost. Actually, one 2018 study published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion found that when previously inactive adults exercised, they reported greater sexual functioning and experience. 

To be clear: That does not mean that you need to be an exercise fanatic, bodybuilder, or marathoner to have a healthy sex life. “Research has found that a pleasurable sex life is possible regardless of body shape and size,” says Tanner. “So, it’s possible to be thin and muscular and sexually unsatisfied just as it’s possible to have no exercise routine and have a robust sexuality,” they say. 

That said, people who historically had a regular exercise regimen who suddenly and/or drastically changed that exercise routine are susceptible to libidinal lull. The main reason, according to Tanner, is that you become accustomed to the rush of feel-good hormones that show up after a workout, and their absence is likely accompanied by the general blues. 

“How you feel about your body also significantly influences your libido,” Tanner adds. So, if someone becomes more self-conscious about their body following a drop off in exercise, that will also impact libido. 

Your move if you suspect a lack of exercise is impacting your libido is simply to move more! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two strength training sessions per week are a good starting point for the general population. 

“Rather than hyper-fixating on one particular kind of exercise, try to find a movement that supports your relationship with yourself and your body,” Tanner suggests. Long term, this will help foster a healthier relationship with your body, which also helps support libido, they say. 

5. You’re Skimping On Sleep

If you’re not sleeping enough, don’t be surprised when you spend less time doing other activities in between the sheets! “Getting enough high-quality sleep—which for the average adult is seven to eight hours per night—is key for having a healthy, normal libido,” says Winter. 

The body produces the share-hold of its testosterone, a sex drive essential, when you are sleeping, she explains. A 2021 study published in Sleep Medicine found a direct relationship between sleep deprivation and lower testosterone levels. Essentially, this means you have less of the hormone that drives interest in sex. 

Read More: Fast-Acting Supplements To Turn To During Sleepless Nights

Generally, logging more hours in the hay should be sufficient for gradually increasing both testosterone levels and sex drive, says Winter. Some individuals may find that supplementing with a natural sleep support supplement with ingredients like valerian root, magnesium, CBD, and/or lavender may help, per the National Council On Aging

If you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, or wake up tired despite logging seven-plus hours per night, Winter suggests getting evaluated for an underlying sleep condition like sleep apnea or insomnia. 

6. Your Diet Has Taken A Downturn 

While no specific libido-boosting diet protocol exists, what you do in the kitchen can impact what you do in the bedroom. 

Broadly speaking, you should aim to eat a diet rich in all the essential vitamins and macronutrients, says Winter. Doing so will support overall health, which in turn supports libidinal health. Beyond that, “a balanced diet plays a pivotal role in optimizing hormone levels, including testosterone, a key determinant of a healthy libido,” she notes. 

You also want to make sure you’re eating enough, but not too much, says Houman. “Under-eating can lead to nutrient deficiencies, lower energy levels, and hormonal imbalances, all of which can affect sexual desire,” he says. On the flip side, going overboard—particularly on alcohol, high-glycemic foods, trans fats, and an overabundance of carbs—can lead to other hormonal imbalances, as well as obesity, both of which can decrease libido, he says. 

The best way to figure out the best meal plan for you is to work with a healthcare provider and nutrition specialist. If that’s not accessible, inputting your current weight, activity level, and age into an app like MyFitnessPal will spit out general calorie and macronutrient guidelines for you to follow. 

When updating your nutritional regimem, you may also consider adding in a supplement that will close in the gaps on any nutritional deficiencies (like a multivitamin or standalone supplement like vitamin D), or one created specifically to support libido, such as Olly Lovin’ Libido For Women, Solaray Her Life Stages Libido, or Winged Love Bites. “Just know that if you’re experiencing low sexual desire because you and your partner(s) are experiencing conflict, a nutritional or herbal supplement is unlikely to make the difference,” says Tanner. Makes sense! 

Better Understanding Sexual Desire May Help Improve Libido

No doubt, lifestyle can negatively influence your libido. However, sometimes individuals don’t necessarily have low libido but something called responsive desire, according to Wright. Responsive desire is the kind of interest in sex that happens after an individual has already started engaging with things that turn them on, she explains. Here, sexual desire may spike in response to receiving a foot rub from a partner, listening to audio erotica, seeing a sex scene in a movie, applying lotion to their legs, and so on. 

Responsive desire is an incredibly normal and common way to experience interest in sex—and actually, is a way that an estimated 85 percent of women become interested in sex. However, mainstream culture primarily showcases another kind of desire: spontaneous desire. Spontaneous desire is the desire for sex that seems to come out of nowhere. “This is the kind of desire we see when two lead actors look at one another and whammo-bammo are turned on and ready to rip off one another’s clothes,” says Wright. 

Read More: An OB/GYN Debunks 5 Common Libido Myths

The presence of spontaneous desire in the media has led people to mistakenly believe that you either have a sudden interest in sex or have a low libido. In reality, it is possible that an individual is interested in and enjoys sex, but needs to have that interest sparked (responsive desire) rather than having it randomly erupt (spontaneous desire). 

That’s why Wright suggests that individuals navigating mismatched libidos, or who believe they have low libido and are troubled by that, take the time to learn more about responsive and spontaneous desire. To do so, you might read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, Desire by Lauren Fogel Mersy and Jennifer Vencill, or Mind the Gap by Karen Gurney. 

When To Talk To A Healthcare Provider

“Your libido functions like a check engine light,” says Wright. Anytime your libido is higher or lower than your norm, your body is giving you valuable information, she says. In some instances, that information may be that your stress levels are unsustainably high, your nutrient intake is suboptimal for overall health, or any of the other aforementioned factors. However, other times an individual’s libido tanks in response to something more serious, such as hormonal imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, per The National Health Service

As such, you should consult with a healthcare provider if you notice a change in your libido —especially if there are no discernible causes of your reduced libido or if you are experiencing other unwanted symptoms or health changes. “They’ll be able to help you determine the underlying cause of the change in libido, whether it’s due to hormonal imbalances, stress, relationship issues, or other factors,” she says. Then, based on the assessment, they’ll be able to guide you toward appropriate interventions or treatments.

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