by Joan Haynes, ND
Have you ever found yourself saying something like, “I love my partner very much, but I just don’t want him to touch me”?
Hormones Can Be the Culprit
The first thing to check in a woman or a man with low libido is hormone levels. Low levels of estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, and/or testosterone can all result in a lack of sexual desire.
Even though testosterone has received a lot of press as the “hormone of desire”, in fact, any hormone imbalance can be the culprit. 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 irritability and a hands-off attitude.
Before beginning hormone replacement therapy, it is wise to get your hormones tested either with a saliva test, or a 24-hour urine test. Follow up testing is also useful to ensure levels are appropriate. Read our article Testing for Hormone Imbalances: The Big Five.
Stressed and Tired Women are Not Easily Aroused
Besides hormone imbalances, one of the most common reasons women have low libido is simply fatigue and stress. In general, both men and women find that sex helps them relieve stress, however, women need to be much more relaxed first in order to be intimate. This important gender distinction can be very important prior to love-making.
Chronic stress can lead to a depletion of adrenal hormones and this adrenal “burnout” can be another factor in low libido. Adrenal function can be assessed by a cortisol measurement in the saliva or urine. Adrenal depletion can be addressed with herbs, nutrients and lifestyle changes. Often the source of the stress needs to be addressed as well – poor sleep, poor diet, too many daily demands, etc.
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.
Other Factors in Waning Desire
Correcting hormone imbalances may be important for some women; however, others can have a low libido regardless of what her hormones are doing. Here are some other factors to consider:
1 – Relationship
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. I’m often amazed at how women will initially say their relationships are “fine” and want hormone testing for their lack of desire, but when I probe, tears of pain come pouring out. Also, a low sex drive by either partner can create tension in an otherwise happy relationship, further decreasing libido.
2 – Other Health Conditions
Chronic conditions influence our desire too: being overweight; gas and bloating; constipation; vaginal thinning; fear of urinary or fecal incontinence; anxiety and depression; chronic pain, etc. Also some medications can impair libido.
3 – 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