The Ultimate Guide To Low Libido In Women
A sex therapist explains how to get your sex drive back
Low sex drive? You’re not alone. In fact, you’re 1 in 3 who experience low sexual desire. In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn about lots of causes of low libido in women – 17 to be exact – all with corresponding solutions on how to get your sex drive back.
The Secret To Getting Your Sex Drive Back
As a clinical sexologist, I see women daily who don’t want sex anymore and don’t understand why. They feel stressed, anxious and often start questioning their relationship or marriage.
A lot of them are doing All The Things to turn themselves on: date nights, massage oils, sex toys, weekends away, and new positions, but none of it is working.
And the thing is, this makes perfect sense.
Everything going on around you – dirty dishes piling up, or children in the background – and everything going on within you – stress about sex, or worrying about your health – all affects your sex drive.
It truly is possible to increase your libido, but in order to do this, you need to start from the beginning: by working out why it’s gone in the first place.
If you want to dig even deeper from the get go, grab my free resource, The Desire Test, that helps you pinpoint all of the reasons behind your low libido – giving you the ultimate starting point from which you can regain your sex drive.
Biological & Medical Reasons
Low libido is complex – and more often than not, it arises from several factors, not just one. In order to get the whole picture, it’s important to reflect on your desire from a biological, psychological, relationship and cultural perspective.
Below are three examples of biological and medical reasons that might be one of the factors responsible for your low libido.
1. You have a chronic illness
Solution: If you’re already being treated for a chronic health condition by your doctor, you might want to book an appointment with a sex therapist regarding your libido. We’re used to helping clients with pre-existing conditions create the sex lives they want.
2. You’re on medication
Medication is a great way of treating various mental or physical conditions, however, a lot of times medicine comes with less than great side effects. One medication, that can wreak havoc on your sex drive, is the popular antidepressant.
It's commonly used for treating depression and anxiety. Especially those known as SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, tricyclic antidepressants, and tetracyclic antidepressants, can lead to a lacklustre libido.
Solution: If your libido suddenly decreased upon the onset of your medication, this might be the root cause of your low sex drive. Talk to your doctor about the possibility of switching to an antidepressant with fewer sexual side effects, such as: Bupropion, Mirtazapine, Vilazodone or Vortioxetine.
3. You use hormonal birth control
Some medical professionals and researchers argue that hormonal birth control is one of the causes of low libido in women, whereas others say it doesn’t affect sex drive at all.
However, even if the scientific community hasn’t yet reached a consensus on the matter, it doesn’t mean you should neglect the possibility that it might be one of the factors contributing to your low libido.
Solution: If you see a clear pattern of your libido decreasing as soon as you started your hormonal birth control, you might want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of other options. There are lots of other ways of protecting against unwanted pregnancy. Examples of non-hormonal contraceptives include an IUD and condoms.
Common causes of low libido in women are often psychological in nature. The seven reasons listed below are the ones I see time and again in my private practice as a sex therapist – and if they sound like you – know it’s completely normal and also, fixable!
1. You don’t know what you like sexually
Out of all the clients I see as an online sex coach and therapist – not knowing what turns you on or what you want your sex life to look like, is the most common among those who identify as women.
Not knowing what you like is also one of the main reasons why some women aren’t interested in sex. And it makes sense, right? If you don’t know what you like about sex, why would you want to have it?
Solution: Exploring your sexuality and what turns you on is crucial if you want to increase your libido. This can be done in lots of ways – by reading a sexy book, watching an erotic film or fantasizing about someone you find appealing. You’re not present during sex
2. You're not present during sex
Sex is both a bodily and mental experience. In order for us to enjoy and want sex, we have to be present during the sexual encounter.
Worrying about not feeling enough during sex, not lubricating quickly or stressing about work, brings us out of the moment and lowers our libido. In turn, this leads to our bodies and minds learning that sex is an unfulfilling experience – giving our sex drive less incentive to kick start next time sex is in the cards.
Solution: Mindfulness is a great way of learning how to cultivate presence during sex. It might be a bit of a buzz-word, but don’t knock it just yet – the research behind it is robust. Dr. Lori Brotto has studied mindfulness interventions as a way of treating women’s sexual difficulties for over 18 years. It’s all about cultivating non-judgmental presence, which can increase your sex drive and sexual pleasure.
For more information about mindfulness and its benefits for women with a low sex drive check out this video.
3. You’re stressed (who isn’t?)
Stress is a bit of an epidemic.We’re stressed about the kids, finances, relationships, work and health. And with all the notifications on our phones, tablets and computers going off at all hours of the day – it’s not a surprise a lot of us are feeling burned out.
Every time we’re stressed our bodies are adapting to what they believe is a potential threat – mobilising resources in our bodies to deal with the danger at hand.
And when our body’s stress response system is in full swing – we generally don’t want sex, because evolutionarily speaking, sex isn’t a great idea if we’re experiencing a potential threat.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways of dealing with stress and increasing libido.
Solution: Mindfulness isn’t just a great way of increasing non-judgmental presence – it’s also effective at targeting the body’s stress response system and helping us calm down. Download a mindfulness app or search for mindfulness exercises on Youtube (there are loads!).
4. You feel down or anxious
One of the overlooked causes of low libido in women, is difficulties dealing with emotions. Because feeling low or anxious isn’t enjoyable, we often try to shut these feelings down, instead of moving through them and letting them run their course. Over time, this can lead to depression and anxiety – and also low libido.
Solution: Understanding your emotions and dealing with them head on is a great way of reconnecting with yourself and your sexuality. It might sound strange or counterintuitive – but it’s important to tune into all your emotions, not just the positive ones, if you want to get your sex drive back (and feel better all round).
5. You feel unattractive
We’re constantly bombarded with images of “perfect” women. Media tells us what we’re meant to look like, how we’re meant to act, what our “problem areas” are and what we need in order to fix them.
These messages seep into our unconscious and can have a profound effect on how we view ourselves and feel about our bodies. Feeling unattractive and uncomfortable in our own skin, not only leads to us feeling bad generally – it’s also one of the causes of low libido in women.
Solution: If you feel like this might be one of the factors affecting your sex drive – working on your body image will be important. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is an evidence based strategy to improve your body image and increase libido.
6. You’re experiencing other sexual difficulties
It never rains but it pours – a quote which, unfortunately, also rings true when it comes to sexual difficulties. It’s not uncommon to have trouble orgasming or find sex painful, if you also have low libido.
Sometimes, they are one of the causes of low libido in women, other times they arise because of an already low sex drive.
Solution: If sex is painful, it’s always important to deal with this first. Booking an appointment with a gynaecologist is a good place to start. Once you know what you’re dealing with, it will be easier to know how to proceed to reduce the pain. Sometimes this is enough to increase libido on its own – other times, you’ll need to make other changes too, to see an increase in your desire.
If you’re finding it hard to orgasm, this blog post on difficulty orgasming during sex offers expert advice on how to have an orgasm. Once you try out some of the tips and tricks outlined in the blog post, you might find you’ll be more interested in sex, too!
7. You’re affected by past trauma
Being subjected to sex against your will is, unfortunately, common. As a sex therapist who has previously specialised in this area, I know all too well about sexual assault and its negative effects on physical, mental and sexual health. It’s one of the most common causes of low libido in women – no matter how far back the abuse goes.
Solution: If you’re a survivor of sexual assault, I want you to know it really is possible to get past your sexual difficulties. The best place to start is processing your experiences with a sex therapist or another mental health. More information on how to regain your libido after sexual assault can be found in my blog post; can sexual desire be restored? (The answer – is yes).
Low libido doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed (or that your desire will never pick back up again). However, if you’re experiencing low sex drive it’s important to take a step back and examine your relationship and how it’s doing. A lot of times, your connection with your partner – or lack thereof – affects how much you feel in the mood for sex.
1. You have sex to avoid conflict
If you’ve been sleeping with your partner to keep the peace or to make them happy – you’re not alone. It is, however, likely one of the big reasons behind your lacklustre libido.
Several studies show that the reasons we have sex, can affect our desire both positively and negatively.
• Having sex as a way of connecting or experiencing intimacy – leads to more satisfaction and a higher sex drive.
• Having sex as a means of avoiding conflict and irritation, is one of the common causes of low libido in women.
Sex turns into a chore, or worse – into something we dread. In some cases, it may even start to feel like you’re being used or sexually assaulted. For all of these reasons and more, it’s important to stop having sex you don’t want to have.
Solution: Learning how to communicate about sex is crucial if you want to get out a negative sex cycle. Get the tools and strategies necessary to get out of this hamster wheel of negative sexual experiences – and into a positive one, where you have sex because you want to have sex.
2. You’re arguing and misunderstanding each other
Research shows that conflict in relationships as well as general communication difficulties, are common causes of low libido in women. If you and your partner are constantly misunderstanding each other or feel like the other one is annoying – it makes perfect sense you don’t want to have sex with them, right?
Solution: In my free resource, Talking Sex, there are several exercises on how to avoid misunderstandings and conflict about sex. You and your partner will be able to pinpoint where things go wrong in your communication, and how to change it, so you can get back to an intimate and loving connection.
3. You’ve been together for ages
For a lot of us, long relationships or marriages are the goal. However, in some ways, reaching this goal can be an antidote to our sex drives.
Although the novelty of a new partner is popularly thought to be more important to men’s libido than women’s, a study by Murray & Milhausen (2012) would have us believe otherwise. The study concluded that the length of a relationship seemed to be more detrimental to women’s sexual desire than men’s. Long-term monogamous relationships are also iterated as a cause of low libido in Bergner’s book "What Women Want”. Research also shows that for all genders, sexual desire naturally decreases about 6 months to 2,5 years into the relationship.
So, if you’ve been in your relationship for a long time – chances are the length in and of itself, might be one of the reasons you’re experiencing a low sex drive.
Solution: Don’t fret – you don’t necessarily have to end things with your partner to get your sex drive back. There are lots of ways of creating desire within a long relationship. One way, often talked about by psychotherapist Esther Perel, is cultivating your own identity so you don’t fuse together.
4. You’re experiencing a lack of intimacy
Physical and emotional intimacy is often thought to be part of what triggers sexual desire. Because of this, a disconnect with your partner – can negatively affect your libido. One of the causes of low libido in women, is in fact a lack of intimacy in the relationship.
Solution: Increasing intimacy doesn’t have to be complicated. Find something to help you and your partner talk about the difficult stuff and get closer to one another – in turn, increasing libido.
Society has a sneaky way of impacting women’s libido. It might sound strange – but more often than not, our culture shapes how we feel about intimacy and our sexuality. This is why cultural factors are some of the most common causes of low libido in women.
1. You feel embarrassed or ashamed about what turns you on
What we like sexually might not always be what we think we should like. As women, we’re often taught that sex is dirty – and the less our turn-ons align with messages about female sexuality in the media, the more we can feel uncomfortable about what we like.
According to sex researcher Lehmiller, fantasizing about BDSM, open relationships, threesomes and orgies are all common examples of sexual fantasies. But if your fantasies make your feel bad – it might be one of the reasons you don’t want to have sex right now.
Solution: Moving past the shame that’s blocking your sexual desire is important if you want to get in the mood again. This blog post on the impact of shame and other negative emotions during sex might be helpful in understanding more about why you’re feeling shame and how it’s affecting you libido.
Learning to be present in your mind and body, even if what’s going on is shameful, can help you move through the shame and increase your libido. This can be done by exploring self-compassion through mindfulness exercises. You’ll find lots of these for free, on Youtube.
2. You play the comparison game
Sex is everywhere – it’s on tv, it’s in books, it even shows up in our social media feeds. It’s easy to get the idea that everyone else is having great sex, constantly mixing things up and having explosive orgasms, all the time.
For a lucky few, this may be the case, but for most of us, sex isn’t always that easy. And comparing ourselves to the messages we consume about sex, is one of the causes of low libido in women.
Solution: Challenge yourself when you notice you’re comparing yourself to what “others” do sexually. How do you know this is true? And even if it is true – in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter?
Your sexuality is yours and what you need to do get aroused or feel sexy may not be what someone else needs. Let the rest be them and you be you.
3. You’re affected by your upbringing
The messages we receive about sex affect how we feel about ourselves, our bodies and sex in general. These messages are often passed down to us not only through media, but also from our parents.
As this is one of the causes of low libido in women, you'll want to consider how your upbringing has affected the way you think and feel about sex.
- Perhaps you have difficulties letting go because you were taught that sex was somehow dirty or not ok to enjoy?
- Or maybe sex was something only meant for marriage? Whatever the message, it’s probably affecting you right now, whether you’re conscious of it or not.
Solution: Working through the messages you received about sex is important. Because shame usually runs deep, seeking sex therapy is the most effective way of doing this. Talking about sex with a complete stranger might feel a little daunting – but trust me we’ve seen and heard it all and nothing embarrasses us. Sex therapists do all we can to make sure the conversation is as easy and comfortable as possible.
It Won’t Always Be Like This
When you’re experiencing low libido, it’s easy to feel like it’ll never change.
That sex is something you’ll never want or enjoy again.
That sex is for everyone else – not you.
This isn’t true.
It is possible to get your sex drive back – and understanding why your libido is gone in the first place – is the most important part.
Your sex drive can be negatively affected by things like stress, medications, not being present in the moment, feeling unattractive, having sex to avoid conflict, shame about your turn-ons & comparing your sex life to that of others.
Now you know the common causes of low libido in women, it’s time to work out which factors are responsible for your low libido.
Leigh Norén is a sex therapist with a Master of Science in Sexology. She helps people reduce stress, shame, & anxiety surrounding sex-so they can get their sex drive back and enjoy their partner again. If you want to increase your libido, download her free resource The Desire Test.
Originally published at Therapy by Leigh.