Too high, too low, or juuust right? If your sex drive isn’t alive and kickin’, should you be concerned? Libido, aka sex drive, varies from person to person and between partners.
While stereotypes definitely exist (think: teenagers with raging hormones), sex drive is highly personal. And your desire for sex can fluctuate, depending on factors like your age, stress level, and relationship status.
So how do you know if you’ve got a high or low libido or if it’s perfectly normal? And if something is wrong, what can you do about it?
You can’t analyze the health of your libido without factoring in what the norm is for you. Sex therapist and New York Times bestselling author Ian Kerner, PhD, says that “normal is such an elastic word… it depends on what your baseline libido is.”
While it might be totally normal for the more lustful among us to crave sex once a day (or more), it’s also normal for those with a low libido to have zero interest in sex.
But when you’ve been into sex all along and you suddenly lose the urge — that’s when you need to throw back those silk sheets and look at what’s really going on underneath. Kerner says a change in libido becomes an issue when it’s a problem for you or your partner.
There’s really no “normal” amount to desire sex (or to actually do the deed). Sex and relationship expert Emily Morse notes that some couples are simply out of sync when it comes to libido. You might be putting on the moves every night, while your partner takes a hard pass.
And the idea that men think about sex constantly is a myth. Men do have dirty thoughts 19 times a day, according to one survey, but that’s far from constant. And even women ponder sex 10 times daily.
Your libido is unique, just like everyone else’s. But if you feel it swinging up or down on the spectrum, here are some possible reasons for that.
If sex is front and center in your mind every second of the day, you might wonder, “Why is my sex drive so high?” Having an unusually high libido isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.
As with low libido, there’s no textbook definition of high sex drive. Even the meaning of “sex” varies depending on who you ask. Does oral sex count, or does it have to be full-on penetration?
A revved-up sex drive becomes an issue only if it leads to problems with your sex life and your life outside of sex. This is known as hypersexuality, compulsive sexual behavior, or sexual addiction.
Here are a few signs sex has become a problem for you:
- You can’t stop the activity. Whether it’s having sex with strangers or watching porn, you keep doing something even though it’s having a negative effect on your life.
- You’re sneaking around. In order to get the sex you need, you feel you can’t be honest with those who care about you.
- You use sex as an escape from your life. You do this the same way someone might reach for a drink or eat a whole pizza.
- You do it all the time. Still, it doesn’t really do anything for you. Afterward, you *always* feel unfulfilled or empty.
As with low libido, a number of things can cause your sex drive to skyrocket into an unhealthy place.
Certain health conditions
No, that honeymoon phase of a new relationship when you’re suspending work/life/laundry to get naked with your significant other isn’t a “psychological condition” (as much as your neglected friends may argue).
But there are serious mental disorders that can make sex your first priority. According to Kerner, sex can be a form of self-medication for some people with anxiety. Low self-esteem, unresolved shame, and other deeply entrenched feelings can increase sex drive as well.
An abnormally high desire for sex could be a psychological condition, if you have urges that make you feel uncomfortable or that you can’t control, or you engage in sex repeatedly but get no satisfaction from it. If your urges are intense enough to screw with your life and relationships, you might have “hypersexual disorder.”
Fantasizing about your cute co-worker is pretty normal (and even healthy), but repeatedly skipping out on work to watch someone shake their a** on the internet may signal that something’s not quite right.
Certain drugs can send libido sky-high. Many are the same stimulants that jolt your brain, like cocaine, ecstasy, crystal meth, and caffeine.
Drugs called substituted cathinones give users a boost in energy, feelings of connectedness, and a high sex drive. Increased libido is a side effect of one of these drugs, Wellbutrin, which doctors prescribe to help people kick the smoking habit.
If your idea of “getting it on” is throwing on your favorite sweatshirt before settling down for a night of Netflix, it’s time to dig deeper into the cause of your low libido. Keep in mind that different factors may affect different people (you guessed it…) differently.
Check your health
We’re not suggesting you’re sick, but medical issues can depress your libido into virtual nonexistence. The pain, stress, and sheer exhaustion of living with cancer, arthritis, diabetes, or another chronic illness can really sap your desire for sex.
Your mental state also has a big effect on your sex drive. In fact, a lost libido can be one of the first warning signs of depression.
The antidepressants you might take to boost your mood may not do your sex life any favors, either. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like duloxetine (Cymbalta) prevent your brain from absorbing serotonin, a chemical that affects desire.
These antidepressants can not only put a damper on your libido but also make it harder to reach orgasm when you finally do get in the mood.
If you suspect this is the case for you, a medication like bupropion (Wellbutrin) might be better for relieving depression without diminishing your sex drive.
Also, in an ironic twist, the very same method you use to avoid a pregnancy could prevent you from getting into a situation where it might happen. In fact, 1 in 5 birth control pill users lose interest in sex, and about half go off the pill as a result.
To stay protected without losing your sex drive, a change in method might be in order. Research suggests that copper IUDs lead to less libido loss than injectables, implants, and rings.
We blame hormones for everything from chocolate cravings to mood swings. When it comes to sexual desire — or a lack of it — hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone do carry some of the blame.
Those of us who are all over our partners just before our monthly period arrives can thank estrogen spikes for our erotic zeal. Plunging levels of this hormone are also why interest in sex fades during menopause.
When it comes to desire, T is key. Low testosterone can really make your libido suffer. For some folks who are especially low, this hormone could help rev up their sex life again.
If you and your partner have retreated to separate sides of the bed, an assessment of your relationship is in order. A rocky romance could take its toll on your (and your partner’s) libido.
Pretty much anything that negatively affects a couple has the potential to limit lust. Poor communication, anger, hurt feelings, and even boredom are common culprits.
Recovering from infidelity may cause low libido for some. Always be open and honest with your partner about how you’re feeling.
Life gets in the way
Being overworked, short on time, exhausted, or all of the above tends to bump sex down on the list of priorities. Hello, adulting.
New parents may be especially susceptible to sexual issues.
Whether you need a libido adjustment, and what to fix, depends on whether yours is too low or too high and how much it bothers you and your partner.
If you’re in a relationship, figure out how your partner feels about your sex drive. Are the two of you completely out of sync, or do things match up pretty well?
If you and your partner feel A-OK about how much sex you want, chances are your libido is just fine. Just keep calm and get it on.
DIY for libido issues
When there’s no smolder in your sex life, a number of things can help light your fire. First, give yourself and your partner a little extra lovin’ time. Pencil sex and intimacy into your schedule, right up there with work meetings and dinners out with friends.
Speaking of food, you might find a few natural aphrodisiacs right in your kitchen. Bananas, avocados, and chocolate can help put you in the mood (banana-avocado-hot fudge sundaes, anyone?). To spice up your sex life, sprinkle a little basil or garlic on your precoital meal.
Get creative in the bedroom too. Missionary position is fine but can be humdrum. To make things interesting, try Corkscrew, Reverse Cowboy, or Kinky Jockey (they’re real — look them up, but be aware that they’re NSFW).
One erogenous zone you could be overlooking is your mouth (and not for the reasons you might think). Talk to your partner. Tell them what makes you feel good, and ask what gives them pleasure.
Remember, libido isn’t just built in the bedroom. Exercise can make you feel friskier (in addition to relieving stress and making your jeans fit better). And getting enough sleep will give you the energy you need to be a lover, not a snorer.
High libido, notes Kerner, doesn’t cause too many complaints unless your libido doesn’t match up with your partner’s or it’s part of a sexual compulsion.
If you’re experiencing emotional distress or your loved ones are expressing concern, it is best to have a conversation with your partner or meet with a sex therapist for support.
Stimulate your sex drive
Sometimes a lost libido needs medical intervention. The fix may be as simple as transitioning away from a drug that’s dampening your sex drive.
Prescription drugs like bremalanotide (Vyleesi) can turn up the fire on low desire, but they do come with some big downsides. This treatment requires you to give yourself a shot before sex — not the best aphrodisiac.
Other medications on the market may take several months to start working or have serious side effects, like fainting or drops in blood pressure. Speak with your doctor about which drug, if any, makes sense for you.
Hormone therapy is another possible fix. Estrogen in pill, cream, or ring form can relieve vaginal dryness that makes sex painful. Testosterone supplements can help resurrect a dwindling sex drive. Ask your primary care provider or OB/GYN for advice.
See a pro
If your sex drive has taken a fast and steep nosedive into the abyss, mention it at your next doctor’s appointment. Talking to your doctor about your sex life might seem awkward AF, but hey, they’ve seen (and heard) it all before. The problem might have a pretty straightforward medical fix.
If a past trauma or a deep-seated relationship issue is taking a toll on your libido, fixing the underlying problem is the way to go. Consult a therapist who specializes in couples and/or sex therapy.
You might be able to resolve some relationship stuff on your own. But a psychiatrist or sex therapist can address the thornier causes of low or high libido and help you and your partner better communicate with each other. These experts are also your go-to resources for addressing sexual compulsions or other sexual behaviors that cause you or your loved ones emotional distress.
Throw away all your ideas of “normal.” Sex drive is highly personal. A low or high libido becomes a problem only if it’s causing you distress, affecting your day-to-day life, or hurting your relationship with a partner.
If any of those things apply to you, it’s worth figuring out why. Have a chat about it with your boo, bring up the issue at your next doctor’s appointment, and consider seeing a therapist.
You may also want to spice things up (or down) with lifestyle adjustments like adequate exercise, aphrodisiac foods, and stress management techniques.