Sexual desire is different for everyone and fluctuates naturally over the course of your life. There are normal dips during times of stress and a decline as you age — just a couple of the many reasons you might not feel up for it as much.
“Low libido is something I see often in my practice, and it is fairly common,” Psychosexual therapist Christopher Brett-Renes says. “However, it is also an issue that men don’t like to talk about because they think men should be 'up for sex’ all the time, which is a myth perpetuated by mass media and porn. Like most things in the sexual realm, it is more complex than you think.”
Here we look at the concept of sex drive, what might be behind a decreased sex drive and what you can do to increase your libido.
What is defined as a low sex drive?
There’s no set amount of interest in sex that’s defined as high or low, and Brett-Renes says our fixation with the term ‘normal’ is part of the issue.
“All of the men I see with what they perceive as low libido will at some point say something like, ‘I’m not normal.’”
He says his clients often fall into two camps. The first struggle with what they perceive to be a lower sex drive.
“The first is a man who thinks that he has low libido because he only wants sex once or twice a week,” Brett-Renes says. “After a bit of questioning, it turns out that he has a belief that men should be much more sexually active, and through some education he can go on to have a satisfying sex life.”
The second type of man is dealing with more complex factors that are affecting his sex drive.
“He has relationships issues, or he doesn’t find his partner attractive, or he doesn’t like being touched, or he has been working 16-hour days for weeks on end, or, in the case of some of my HIV-positive clients, he is afraid of transmitting the virus — which is not possible if he is on effective medication,” Brett-Renes says. “The issue behind the low libido is more complex, but as I work through these issues with clients, many express relief that it is not a sex drive issue. Sex and sexuality run on a broad spectrum, and different things work for different people — just like in many other aspects of life, the idea of what is ‘normal’ isn’t very helpful.”
Sex therapist Isiah McKimmie says that another issue facing some couples is a mismatch in libidos, which might require extra consideration and communication.
“I think when it comes to sex drive there is no normal, we often use terms like high and low but what really matters in a relationship is how well your sexual desires align and how you manage any differences in sexual desire,” says McKimmie.
What causes low sex drive in men?
Your sexual desire is influenced by a variety of physical, psychological, and personal factors, ranging from extra work stress to underlying health conditions. Here are some of the reasons why you might be dealing with low libido.
1. Lifestyle factors
High stress levels, poor sleep, and too little or too much exercise are some of the lifestyle factors that can impact arousal. General wellbeing through a healthy lifestyle may improve your chances of having a healthy sex life, so try reducing excessive consumption of alcohol, drug use and smoking, exercise regularly, and manage stress levels.
2. Medical conditions
Your physical health can affect your desire to have sex in a range of overlapping ways. Chronic pain might put sex low on your list of priorities, recovery from cancer might impact your body image, or a noticeable drop in sex drive could be a side effect of medication or indicate an underlying health issue. Low testosterone (or androgen deficiency) is an example of the latter. It’s when your body isn’t able to make enough testosterone to work as it usually does, which may be due to problems within your testicles or with hormone production in the brain. Testosterone deficiency is also a common side-effect of anabolic steroid use. Diabetes can cause low testosterone levels.
Given the number of underlying health issues that could be causing a loss of libido, it’s important to chat with your doctor about any concerns you may have. If you’re managing other conditions or taking medication that may be affecting your sex life, chat to your doc about that too, as there might be strategies to improve the situation.
Read more: Symptoms of testosterone deficiency
3. Mental health
Depression can reduce, or completely eliminate, your interest and satisfaction in the things that once made you happy. That includes sex. Dealing with depression can be a double-edged sword for sex drive with medications used to treat the condition, such as antidepressants, also reducing libido as a side effect. However, it’s essential you treat depression first and foremost. Chat to your partner about how you’re feeling and talk to your doctor about your options for restoring sex drive while still reducing symptoms of depression.
4. Your relationship
Unresolved tension or problems in your relationship can understandably affect your desire to be intimate. It’s important to chat with your partner about how you’re feeling because ignoring the issue can make the situation worse.
“Men, because of the way they’re socialised, can struggle to talk about these things,” says psychologist and NSW CEO of Relationships Australia, Elizabeth Shaw. “More men are affected by relationship dynamics than we often might expect because of this stereotype that men are raring to go, no matter what’s going on in their heads.”
There are a few ways to make the conversation more comfortable and constructive.
- Choose the right time to chat when you’re both relaxed and receptive, avoiding moments when you’re stressed, tired or vulnerable.
- Using “I statements” rather than “you statements” to communicate how you feel without coming across as accusatory or shaming towards your sexual partner.
It can also be helpful to see a relationship counsellor who can facilitate these conversations and help you work through issues together.
5. Negative sexual experiences
Low self-esteem and anxiety around sexual performance can lead to issues with sexual desire.
“Negative sexual experiences are not uncommon, however, for some people they can have a lasting impact,” Brett-Renes says. “For example, if someone’s partner is overly critical, the individual may become avoidant of sex, and lose interest in it as for them it is not a pleasurable experience, but rather a negative one.”
And that might affect your relationships in the future.
“While the individual may leave that relationship, that echo of negativity can carry over into a new relationship,” he explains.
6. Experiencing trauma
“The impact of trauma is also a factor that I see in my line of work, and this includes things such as childhood sexual assault, combat PTSD, health-related trauma such as being diagnosed with HIV,” Brett-Renes says.
These experiences can lead to various behaviours that can also impact libido such as drug or alcohol misuse. Speaking to your doctor, a psychologist or sexual therapist can help treat libido issues associated with trauma.
How to increase your sex drive
The treatment for low sex drive varies from person to person. If you’ve noticed a persistent lack of interest in sex that’s interfering with your normal sexual activity and causing you concern, chat to your doctor. They can run a variety of checks to try to find the cause. Counselling can also be helpful for finding out whether there are psychological or relationship issues that could be affecting your interest in sex.
What about natural libido boosters?
Wondering if you should be plating up alleged aphrodisiacs like oysters or stocking up on supplements? You might want to save your cash — no evidence has been found proving that anyone food heightens sexual arousal or desire.
“Some people find different things helpful but there isn’t a whole lot of evidence behind the kinds of tonics and herbal supplements available,” McKimmie says. “That being said, there can be a kind of placebo effect and some people do find it helpful.”
A note on asexuality
Asexuality is a sexual orientation. An asexual person has typically had little interest in sexual contact with other people, rather than experiencing a noticeable change in sexual desire.