Low sex drive in women can affect self-esteem and personal relationships and point to underlying health conditions. We talked to some experts in women’s health and wellness to learn more about low libido in women.
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What Causes Low Libido?
While many women wonder if there is a biological element that may reduce libido, all of our experts generally agreed that a low libido is more often tied to a woman’s psychology, which may include depression, anxiety, and moments of grief.
Stress and Burnout
Chronic stress and burnout are perhaps the most prominent psychological contributors to low libido. “If a woman is having a lot of issues put on her plate, sex may be the last
thing on her mind,” says Kevin Darne of Conation Enterprises. “This is especially true if she has a demanding career, children to raise, and a household to run.” Darne goes on to say that a packed, stressful schedule leaves little room to relax, decompress, or recuperate, much less consider sex or exert herself physically.
Dawn Cutillo, an expert on hormone education, author of the book The Hormone Shift, and founder of BeBalanced Hormone Weight Loss Centers, also states that stress can interfere with natural hormonal balance. “High levels of stress will drain hormone progesterone,” says Cutillo. Progesterone plays an integral role in women’s health, including their libidos.
Jayne Morris, a writer for Psychologies Magazine Life Labs and author of the bestseller Burnout to Brilliance: Strategies for Sustainable Success, considers burnout as a prime contributor to low libido and ill-health in general. “Burnout is the collective result of various factors culminating in prolonged stress and poor lifestyle choices that lead to severe depletion of the autoimmune system and adrenal glands,” Morris says. “Burnout is not unique to any one sort of personality or profession. It affects both men and women; however, women are more likely to experience a loss of libido.”
According to Morris, the key here is the hormone cortisol, the main stress chemical that also lowers the libido. Cortisol can interfere with menstrual cycles, prevents women from getting in the mood for sex, and makes it harder to orgasm.
Other forms of hormonal imbalance can also inhibit libido. This is most prominent in women going through menopause. “For older women, reaching the menopause can reduce your libido as your hormone levels drop and your body is no longer trying to get you to have sex,” says Tamsin Nicholson from Yekize, a site committed to raising awareness about the placebo effect.
According to Darne, menopause also results in reduced testosterone and estrogen, which can make women less sensitive to physical touch and foreplay. A lack of estrogen during menopause results in vaginal dryness, which can may sex painful, uncomfortable, and difficult, though prescription vaginal estrogen creams are available to treat or reduce vaginal atrophy during menopause.
Michael Ingber from the Center for Specialized Women’s Health, a Division of Garden State Urology in Denville, NJ, also notes that testosterone levels also play a role in libido, and menopause may result in reduced testosterone levels. According to current Endocrine Society guidelines, a short trial of topical testosterone may be prescribed to postmenopausal women with a low libido.1
Certain types of medication may also interfere with women’s libido. According to Nicholson, medications that interfere with hormones, including morning after pills and contraceptive pills, may cause a low libido in younger women.
Studies also show that low libido is also a well-known side effect of anti-depressants that affect serotonin production. Switching to a different antidepressant, such as bupropion, trazodone, or nefazodone, may help to reduce these effects on sex drive.2
Societal and Cultural Influences
It’s no surprise that societal and cultural views on sex, especially when it involves women, still remain conservative. Pam from Down to There notes the negative messaging surrounding sex and how it conditions women to view sexuality and desire in a negative light. “For instance, many of us receive messages like, ‘Sex is dangerous,’ ‘sex is for procreation only,’ ‘sexual satisfaction comes from penetration,’ ‘women who like sex are sluts,’ and ‘masturbation is a sin,’” Pam says. “It’s really hard to connect with sexual desire when we live in a world that gives us messages like this.”
How to Increase Female Libido with Home Remedies
Some simple lifestyle changes can go a long way to improving your sex drive and your general health. A good place to start is exercise, an idea supported by Jane Wilson, the founder of PoleFit Nation and an expert on women’s empowerment. “I encourage women to move their bodies. Not as a form of weight loss but as a way to feel good and generate positive energy,” Wilson says, “It's hard to feel sexy when you are lacking energy and feeling gross. Choose a movement activity that you love and brings you joy.”
Sleep also plays an integral role in supporting a healthy libido. Much of that comes down to developing good sleep habits and putting down the phone before bed. “Studies have shown that women have a higher propensity to check for messages, email, Twitter, or Facebook updates on their phones before going to sleep,” says Morris. “Looking at phone screens before bed not only contributes to insomnia and interrupts our quality of sleep, but it can lead to our sex lives suffering, too. A recent study in the U.S. showed that 57% of women would forgo the opportunity to make love to their partners in order to continue using their phones. A similar UK study suggests that British women similarly hamper their sex lives because of smartphone obsession.”
In order to support better sleep, Morris offers several suggestions, including:
- Investing in a silent alarm clock
- Maintaining a clutter-free bedroom
- Turning down the temperature (the ideal sleep temperature is 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Retraining your thoughts so that you spend less time focusing on work, to-do lists, and general stressors and more time relaxing
Changes to diet and medication can also affect libido according to Carol Queen, a writer and educator with a PhD in human sexuality, the staff sexologist and CCO of Good Vibrations, and co-founder of the Center for Sex and Culture. “Besides prescription meds, some party drugs, and certainly alcohol, can inhibit desire or pleasure depending on the quantity consumed,” says Queen, “A fatty diet, smoking, and lack of exercise all affect libido and pleasure as well.”
Good communication is the key to a great relationship, and that goes double when it comes to sex. Carol Queen puts it simply: “Not all women like the same things, so good communication is
Important.” Share your likes and dislikes with your partner, and help your partner understand different techniques for arousal, from oral and manual stimulation to kissing and embracing.
Talking with your partner about your low libido is also important. Emily Rea, a licensed acupuncturist at Harmony and Health Acupuncture, says, “Communicating with your partner during this time is especially important because they may take your lack of libido personally. Let them know it’s not about them and ask them to support you in finding answers and making
changes.” Helping your partner understand can take the pressure and stress off your shoulders and starts you on the road to better sex.
Rea suggests scheduling time with your partner to connect without any distractions. Touching and cuddling can be enough to increase oxytocin production, which may help to improve sexual dysfunction. Rea also suggests that a simple massage from your partner may be just enough to get your hormones back to normal.
The main takeaway is to understand that partners can help by listening to your needs, both in bed and in everyday life. This can help your low libido and cultivate a healthier relationship.
Natural Herbal Remedies
Along with the above, you may consider taking a natural herbal remedy. These may work through various mechanisms to potentially improve libido. Common herbal remedies include:
- Horny goat weed
- Mucuna pruriens
- Polypodium vulgare
- Tongkat ali
- Saw palmetto
- Muira puama
- Panax ginseng
Libido and sexual desire often come down to a combination of physiological and psychological factors. Discovering what you like and what you need, and communicating with your partner about your sexual needs, can go a long way in maintaining your comfort and enjoyment. It’s also a good idea to see a doctor if you experience continued problems with low libido.