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Libido (sex drive): What is it & what affects it?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Libido refers to your sex drive. Normal levels of libido and sex drive are different for each person, there is no standard that anyone should be compared to. Loss of libido is a type of sexual dysfunction and means a drop in your normal sex drive (not just lower than another person's).

It is a common thing for people to experience. It can be due to many different things, such as fatigue, stress, symptoms of mental health conditions like depression, difficult personal circumstances, relationship difficulties, physical health conditions, or side effects of certain medications.

What affects libido?

Here are some factors that can affect libido:

Psychological factors. Libido is influenced by various psychological factors, including stress, anxiety, and depression. High-stress levels or mental health conditions can contribute to a decrease in sex drive.

Relationship dynamics. The quality of a person's relationship can impact libido. Healthy communication, emotional intimacy, and a satisfying relationship can positively influence sexual desire, while relationship issues or conflicts may contribute to a decrease in libido.

Hormonal changes. Hormones play a crucial role in regulating libido. Changes in hormone levels, such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause, can influence sexual desire.

Medications and contraception. Certain medications, including some antidepressants, antihypertensives, and hormonal contraceptives, may have side effects that affect libido. It's important to discuss potential impacts on sex drive with healthcare providers when considering or using such medications.

Physical health conditions. Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hormonal disorders, can affect overall health, including sexual function and libido.

Lifestyle factors. Lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, and excessive alcohol or drug use, can contribute to a decrease in libido. Adopting a healthy lifestyle may positively influence sexual desire.

Body image and self-esteem. Body image and self-esteem can impact how individuals perceive their own sexuality. Positive body image and self-confidence may contribute to a healthy libido, while body dissatisfaction or low self-esteem can be associated with a decrease in sexual desire.

Genders and individuals. Libido can vary widely among individuals and is not solely determined by gender. Both men and women may experience fluctuations in sex drive throughout their lives due to a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors.

It's important to recognize that libido is a complex and multifaceted aspect of human sexuality, and its fluctuations are a natural part of life. If concerns about libido arise, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, such as doctors, therapists, or sexual health specialists, can provide valuable insights and support tailored to individual needs.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

There are some simple lifestyle changes you can try to see if they improve your libido, which include eating a healthy diet, avoiding drinking excessive alcohol, optimizing the amount and quality of your sleep, and trying to reduce stress levels.

When should I see my doctor?

You should book a routine visit with your doctor if you have unexplained loss of libido, if it is prolonged, keeps happening, or occurs suddenly, and if it is not improving. You should also see your doctor if it’s affecting how you feel or affecting your relationship, or if it has occurred alongside other symptoms. Your doctor is a good person with whom to discuss this sensitive issue, as it will be confidential, you will not be judged, and the doctor can discuss potential causes and support or treatment that could help.

What will my doctor do?

The doctor will discuss with you your current symptoms, any current medication, along with your past medical and mental health history. Depending on what the doctor thinks the potential cause is, they may want to do further tests such as blood tests. Some solutions that may help could be a referral for talking therapy (counseling), such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or looking at starting or adjusting medication.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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