Written by Sally Machin, ND
“Low libido” is a common complaint of women, especially as they age, but that does NOT mean it should be “the norm”. And it certainly does not mean that there aren’t solutions. Women’s libido, sex drive, ability to be aroused, sexual desire, whatever you want to call it, is complicated. Factors affecting one woman’s libido can be different than those affecting another individual. Some women are embarrassed to bring it up, or if they are older, assume that their days of enjoying sex with their partner are over. Other women don’t bring it up to their doctor because they don’t think it will help (Viagra advertisements are all over the place but the equivalent for women doesn’t exist). I’m here to say two things: there’s no need to be embarrassed to talk about sex with your doctor, and with the right naturopathic physician, it is possible to figure out underlying causes for your low libido to help you get back to enjoying intimate time with your partner.
First, a note about libido: there is no magic frequency for desiring sex. If you and your partner are happy and satisfied, that’s what counts. If you feel like your libido is lacking, that’s something that should be addressed. That being said, let’s talk about causes of low libido. For some individuals, the cause may be multifactorial and for others it can be simpler. There can be psychological, physiological, and even sociocultural factors that modulate female sexual desire. As I said before, not everyone who has a low libido is experiencing the same underlying cause, however, there are some factors that are more prevalent than others.
There are certainly hormonal changes that can play a role through peri-menopausal and post-menopausal years. There are multiple sex hormones that undergo a change in these years. Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone can all influence how a woman feels. Testosterone, though not commonly thought of as a female hormone, is present in women and decreases in women through the aging process, which can impact sexual desire. The estrogen decrease that happens with menopause can also have an impact, not just with desire, but also in other ways. For example, one of estrogen’s roles is maintaining healthy vaginal tissue. When estrogen decreases in peri-menopause, women can experience discomfort with intercourse, which can make the idea of initiating sex less appealing.
Stress can be a factor not only psychologically, but also physiologically. This goes for women of all different ages. Cortisol, a hormone your body produces when under stress, can dampen sexual desire because of its inhibitory effect on neurotransmitters involved in desire. Think about it – if you’re living thousands of years ago and getting chased by a lion (which would spike cortisol), or your food supply is low, it’s not the best time for initiating an act that could result in offspring or at least distract you from taking care of these problems. Not to mention that if you are experiencing high stress, you may be spending less time bonding with your partner or you may feel that you are too busy to have time to enjoy having sex.
Other health issues can also play a role in low libido: thyroid health, fatigue, even gastro-intestinal symptoms. The field is broad, so individual assessment is a must! The final post of this series tomorrow will focus on a selection of treatment options available that address some of the most common causes.