What's causing your low libido?

Not in the mood these days for between-the-sheets action? One of these factors could be affecting your low sex drive.

Too tired to have sex? Libido seems to be MIA? Feel zip when looking at your spouse’s attractive body? Unable to “keep it up”’ while doing the deed? You may be displaying symptoms of low libido or sex drive.

When a couple’s sex drive or libido ― Latin for “desire, lust” ― starts to wane, this results in a decrease in desire for or interest in sexual activities.

SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, notes that typical symptoms of low libido include the lack of desire to have intercourse and stopping intercourse or sexual-related activities such as masturbation. Couples may also experience sexual fatigue (too tired to have sex), lack of sexual thoughts or fantasies, a lack of arousal when stimulated sexually, physically, mentally or visually, and orgasmic dysfunction.

Problems of low libido affect more women than men. According to the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviours that included participants from Singapore, the prevalence of low libido among South-east Asian women was 34 per cent, compared to 20 per cent among their male counterparts.

“Normal sexual function is the result of a complex interaction between psychological, physiological and socio-cultural factors. Any issue with these factors can lead to low libido.”

Although male libido loss may not be as common as in women, the symptoms affect them more, notes Dr Lee Fang Jann, a consultant urologist and transplant surgeon at Singapore Medical Specialists Centre. “Sex drive is seen as a cornerstone of masculinity and men are often devastated when their libido suddenly wanes. It places a stress on marriage more than any other sexual dysfunction.

“It also affects their outlook on life, more so than they do to women with similar symptoms. They may have concomitant symptoms of erectile dysfunction, loss of vigour, reduced muscle bulk, weight gain and low mood.”

Dr Lee adds, “Normal sexual function is the result of a complex interaction between psychological, physiological and socio-cultural factors. Any issue with these factors can lead to low libido.”

Causes of low libido

1. State of mind

Your state of mind affects the body and its performance. If you are constantly worried about something at the back of your mind like a looming project, financial worries, your relationship or have trust issues, it is inevitable that stress, anxiety and depression may affect your desire for sex. After all, it won’t be one of your top priorities at the moment. When the body feels stressed, there is decrease in production of important sex hormones like oestrogen which, in turn, affects your libido.

Poor body image and low self-esteem are also mood-killers as these distract you from focusing on the main task. It is difficult to feel sexy and concentrate on how good your body feels while all the time worrying about how big your butt looks or if your love handles jiggle when you move.

2. Fatigue

After a full and tough day at work, your body is drained. Lack of rest, including proper sleep, affects your body’s performance. Your sex drive is also affected if you’re exhausted from looking after aged parents or because you were sick or had surgery. Have young kids? After chasing them around the house the whole day or tending to them, burning up the sheets is the last thing on your mind. Even if you are in the mood, you would need to schedule time between diaper changes and milk-feeds to get horizontal, which greatly dampens the mood for love-making even before you start.

3. Age and hormonal changes

The incidence of low sexual desire generally increases with age, which also reflects the normal ageing process. As circulating levels of testosterone gradually decrease with age, the symptoms of a reduced libido also becomes more common.

Women experiencing signs of peri-menopause and, more often, who are in their post-menopause period, also have low libido, notes Dr Chong. “Low libido is due to a drop or loss of the hormones, oestrogens and testosterones. Loss of oestrogen causes vaginal dryness and painful intercourse, mood swings, depression, sleep disorders, while loss of testosterone directly affects the sex drive,” he adds.

For males, Dr Lee points out, “Depleted levels of circulating testosterone can negatively impact a man’s desire for sex. Other hormones can play a role, too, such as low levels of thyroid hormone or more uncommonly, high levels of prolactin.”

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4. Medical conditions/medication

According to Dr Chong, a low libido can also be caused by certain medications such as psychiatric drugs, heart failure drugs, and diuretics such as spironolactone and thiazides. Emotional problems, especially depression, a lack of stimulation and stress, or after surgery to the sexual organs and/or its surroundings are also reasons.

Chronic medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, and obesity also impact a man’s sense of well-being, which affects his libido. Dr Lee explains, “Some medications used to treat depression, hypertension, prostate enlargement/cancer and hair loss can lead to a low libido and/or sexual dysfunction.”

5. Physiological reasons

Some women are born with a tight vagina, so sex is painful and naturally results in a low sex drive or no sex at all, Dr Chong says. “Some have medical conditions such as endometriosis ― this can also cause painful sex, leading to a low sex drive. Pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, lax vagina are all known causes,” adds Dr Chong.

For males, Dr Lee points out that sexual issues like erectile dysfunction and ejaculatory disorders can affect a man’s ability to perform and have a secondary influence on his desire to have sex.

“It’s important to address a persistent low sexual drive... Everybody is different and finding something that works may take a little while, therefore, seek support sooner than later.”

6. Relationship issues

Women especially have difficulty engaging in sexual intimacy without emotional closeness. So, if there are arguments and unresolved conflicts, lack of communication about sexual preferences, infidelity and trust issues and so on, there will be a lack of emotional connection. This, in turn, affects their mood and desire for intimacy.

How to get back in the mood

If you feel like you are not enjoying sex like you used to or do not want to have sex as often, talk to your spouse about how you are feeling. Rather than let the issue drag on, you may want to get advice from a relationship counsellor or a sexologist like Dr Martha Tara Lee of Eros Coaching.

She states, “With some creativity, imagination and planning, both passion and excitement can be sustained in sexual intimacy, regardless of age.”

Dr Martha Tara Lee shares some tips on how to reboot your sex drive:

1. Cast out negative thoughts
You may find your mind performing at overdrive. For instance, thinking about that deadline at work won’t solve anything when you are under the sheets. Learning how to compartmentalise, to control your thoughts, and to return to your body is important. Communicate with your spouse about what bothers you and try to find solutions to these problems. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, seek help from a trained professional.

2. Have a healthy lifestyle
Between work and other social obligations, we have a limited amount of time to take care of ourselves. We often do this at the expense of our bodies which, in turn, affects our libido. Read up about nutrition. Dr Lee Fang Jann suggests limiting or cutting out dairy, wheat, caffeine, meat, and processed sugars, and instead include more natural foods in your diet like vegetables and fruits. Moderate exercise can improve your well-being. Asking for and giving massages helps you both to connect in the bedroom without feeling pressure.

3. Try new things
Your libido may have decreased because sex is not as exciting as it used to be. You’d have to get out of your comfort zone and explore new territories. Introducing sex toys or role-playing may spice up your relationship. Talk to your spouse and see what their sexual fantasies are. Experiment with different positions and explore each other’s bodies. Instead of trying to reach an orgasm as fast as you can, slow down and enjoy the moment.

4. Seek help
Sometimes, a low libido is linked to a medical condition. A woman might suffer from vaginal dryness, and a man may not be as erect as he used to. At times, the solution may be as simple as to incorporate the use of a lubricant.

Adds Dr Martha Tara Lee, “Don’t despair if you’ve tried a lot of things and nothing seems to work. It’s important to address a persistent low sexual drive with a gynaecologist, urologist or even an endocrinologist. Everybody is different and finding something that works may take a little while, therefore, seek support sooner than later. Rev up your libido!”

Photos: iStock

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