Whether you and your partner haven’t had sex in a hot minute, or you’re just not in the mood, know that you’re not alone.
Our minds and bodies have gone through various changes over the last couple of years. Lockdowns have turned many extroverts into introverts. For some, it’s depleted their social battery. It’s no wonder that our sex drives have taken a hit, too.
What exactly is low libido?
Put simply, low libido is the lack of desire to have sex. It can be linked to Sexual Desire Discrepancy (SDD) which is where partners see a mismatch in sexual desire, meaning that they might not seek out sexual pleasure as frequently as one another or at the same times.
Or it could be that they simply have different sexual interests or kinks. Either way, low libido is incredibly normal and doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.
Understanding male and female arousal
Female arousal tends to be more responsive than male arousal (most of the time). Statistically, women are more likely to respond to things like touch, kissing, and conversation before becoming aroused, with about one third of women operating on a responsive level. Men, on the other hand, are usually more spontaneous in their desire for sex.
Another thing to note is that female genitalia isn’t an accurate indicator of arousal. When a woman is wet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re aroused. Whereas when a man is erect, it is usually a good sign.
Both genders can experience the same disparities, of course. But research suggests that there is generally much more distance between emotional and physical arousal in people with vaginas.
Why am I not in the mood?
Maybe your sex drive has changed due to life events or other circumstances, or maybe it’s the same as it’s always been but doesn’t quite match up to that of your sexual partner right now. There are plenty of possible explanations for not wanting as much sex as your partner, or wanting different things entirely.
The most common culprits for a change in libido tend to be stress, anxiety, and/or depression. However, they can be experienced alongside other stressors - physical or psychological.
Psychotherapist and Certified Sex and Couples Therapist (CSCT) Dr. Lee Phillips attributes a decreased sex drive to a list of some possible causes among medication, body image, and unresolved trauma.
Antidepressants and libido
The most common type of medication associated with a decreased sex drive is antidepressants, but specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
While SSRIs work by making the patient feel more calm, they have been known to compromise levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter for cognitive and behavioural processes, including desire and arousal.
In women, the effects of this can be delayed lubrication or delayed (or even blocked) orgasm. In men, it can show up in overall decreased libido and difficulty getting an erection. It is possible to ask your doctor for a lower dose without negating the positive effects.
What is ‘spectatoring’ during sex?
‘Spectatoring’ is a term coined by sex researchers Masters & Johnson (1970) as a way to refer to the experience of having sex almost from a third-person perspective.
It happens when you’re so in your head about what you look like, how you’re performing, or something else on your mind, that you aren’t able to fully be in the moment and enjoy sex. This can affect your ability to get (or stay) aroused.
Spectatoring brought on by performance anxiety or body issues may demand individual inner work to overcome certain insecurities. If the root is an unresolved issue between you and your partner giving you the ick, make time to talk it out before getting intimate.
PTSD and sex drive
Trauma of any kind (not just sexual) can diminish one’s sex drive. Certain triggers may shut it down almost instantly (e.g. being touched in a specific way), or it might have more of a long-term effect.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can manifest in many different ways including flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, and less obvious ones such as dissociation and detachment. In some cases, people might even steer clear of sex and relationships altogether.
Psychological disorders often require some form of talk therapy in order to process the traumatic event and alleviate the memory’s impact. It’s crucial if you or your partner is dealing with PTSD to seek professional help.
Menopause and libido
Menopausal and postmenopausal women might see changes in their libido. They might be less receptive to touch and therefore struggle to get aroused at all.
In addition to a drop in oestrogen levels, the vagina can also suffer from dryness due to lack of blood supply which can make sex uncomfortable (treatable with vaginal moisturisers and potentially oestrogen replacement).
Depression, anxiety, and stress can also amplify the effects of menopause during this transitional time.
Chronic illness and libido
It’s natural for those dealing with chronic illness to become disinterested in sex, due to either misconceptions about their ability to have it or safety around sex. Post-treatments or surgeries could also be a reason.
If you and your partner are facing chronic illness and sex can be painful or simply unappealing at the best of times, you may be struggling with feeling connected to each other. As always, communication with your partner is key here.
Try prioritising other activities outside of the bedroom, or carving out time for sex at times you know is usually less painful or more comfortable.
When is it a good idea to seek help?
When feelings of guilt start to arise, or lack of physicality creates emotional distance between you and your partner, sex therapy is usually recommended.
“The person with low libido might feel guilty for not being able to please their partner,” suggests Phillips. “On the other side of that, their partner may experience feelings of anxiety about the future of the relationship and take it personally.”
To avoid harbouring feelings of resentment towards your partner, it’s important to tackle the issue together. If you have been having problems for six months or more, you might want to consider exploring solutions such as therapy, touch exercises, and/or libido supplements.
Do libido supplements work?
Libido supplements can contribute to a healthy drive and a healthier relationship when used holistically in addition to therapy and/or a balanced diet.
“Supplements can help by improving the person’s mood, energy levels, and blood circulation,” explains Phillips. “With an increase in blood circulation, we see vasocongestion - which is the swelling of bodily tissues in the genital area due to increased blood flow.”
Because of the effects, it is possible for them to help with desire, arousal, and even orgasm, which can help to improve a relationship overall by fostering closeness and intimacy.
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