Where Did My Sex Drive Go?

by Joan Haynes, ND

Many women in my practice wonder what happened to their sex drive.  This conversation is an important one.  A lack of libido can be caused by many factors and each needs to be explored.

The Number One Reason Women Don’t Want Sex – They are Too Tired and Stressed

After 20 years of practice it is my opinion that the most common reason women have a low libido is simply fatigue and stress.  It becomes just another “to do” item on their list.  A demand placed on them.  Stressed and tired women are not easily aroused.  Pressure from a partner, a fast-paced world, a full-time job, raising kids, health challenges, financial worries, lack of sleep – none of it is arousing.

There are two main parts to the nervous system and only one can be dominant at a time.  The parasympathetic part (rest and digest) helps us feel calm and relaxed.  The sympathetic part (fight or flight) keeps us alert and vigilant and coping with all the demands.  Sex lives in the parasympathetic part.  To get intimacy going, often a couple needs very intentional relaxation first.

Chronic stress can lead to a depletion of adrenal hormones – DHEA and cortisol. For patients with adrenal symptoms, adrenal function can be measured by lab tests and then treated with herbs, nutrients and lifestyle changes.

Other Important Factors in Waning Desire

1 – Relationship with partner

The health of a woman’s relationship with her sexual partner is essential for intimacy. Very few women want to be physically close when they don’t feel safe and loved.  Especially true if there are issues around money and security.  And of course, previous or current trauma, physical, emotional, or verbal abuse can impact intimacy dramatically.

2 – Relationship with self

Unfavorable body image is one of the biggest barriers for women to feel sexy.  But as you’ve heard before – confidence is sexy!  A healthy body is sexy at any size.  Also, some women need help understanding what brings them pleasure.  The book For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality by Loni Barbach, PhD is great for self-discovery.

3 – Health conditions

Chronic conditions influence our desire: smoking, alcohol, sedentary lifestyle, being overweight, vaginal thinning, fear of urinary or fecal incontinence, anxiety and depression, chronic musculoskeletal pain, headaches, etc.  Pelvic pain can be caused by gastrointestinal complaints (gas bloating constipation, surgery adhesions) that make penetration uncomfortable.  In addition, some medications can impair libido.

4 – Sex Hormones

Low levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, cortisol, and/or testosterone can all result in a lack of sexual desire.  Besides just ovarian hormones, low thyroid, and low adrenal function are also important in our energy and sexual function.

Research shows that a decrease in estradiol levels can dampen nerve transmission during sex, making a woman less sensitive to touch. Low estradiol and progesterone can affect the flow of blood to sexually sensitive areas. Low progesterone levels often create pre-menstrual and perimenopausal irritability and can result in a “hands-off” attitude toward your partner.  Even though testosterone has received a lot of press as the “hormone of desire”, in fact, any hormone imbalance can be the culprit.

5 – Thyroid

Low levels of thyroid hormones can be another reason women are not interested in intimacy. Besides fatigue, other low thyroid symptoms are depression, irritability, weight gain, hair loss, dry skin, sleep disturbances, and constipation. Thyroid function is determined by simple blood tests.

6 – Zest for Life

Overall emotional and spiritual love-for-life affects our attitudes about our sexuality. Many women are finding themselves needing to embrace the inevitability of aging and learn to feel sexy at any age or body shape. A happy, healthy woman who has come to terms with her sexual nature and who is in a fulfilling relationship finds passion and intimacy in many things, not just the act of sex. Don’t confuse quantity with quality.

Some great books on the topic:

The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, MD
The Secret Pleasures of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, MD
Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, Regena Thomashauer
Hot Monogamy, Patricia Love, MD

For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality, Loni Barbach, PhD