You know how some people could eat ice cream every day, and others are satisfied with one cone a month? Your sex drive is like your appetite, according to Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD, the chief of behavioral medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Some people are in the mood for sex daily, while others are happiest getting action less often. But what might it mean if your sex drive suddenly goes AWOL?
Why did my sex drive take a nosedive?
An ebb in sexual appetite is often due to a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Here are a few of the reasons you may be less interested in getting it on:
- You’re stressed
If deadlines, family woes, or spats with friends are weighing on your mind, chances are they’ll also put the kibosh on any interest in sex. “If there are too many things causing inhibition, those will outweigh your ability to process and respond to a sexual cue,” explains Kingsberg.
- Pain during sex
Obvious alert: Discomfort during sex makes it very difficult to focus on any pleasure that may also be happening. But many women who experience this kind of pain think that what they feel is normal, says Irwin Goldstein, MD, the director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California.
Pain is never normal, but it is common: Three in four women have pain during sex at some time in their lives, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Pharmaceuticals can be a huge help for certain medical conditions, but a side effect of some can be low sexual desire. One biggie: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which can help those living with depression but also increase serotonin, a known inhibitor of desire. About 40 percent of sexual dysfunction in people with depression can be attributed to antidepressants, according to a 2016 paper in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Additionally, some birth control pills can decrease desire because they lower the production of testosterone, Dr. Goldstein explains. Although women have less of this sex hormone than men do, a drop in T can impair women’s libido.
- You recently had a baby
Bringing a child into the world impacts, well, everything, and that can definitely include how often you’re in the mood. “The changes in your hormones during pregnancy, after giving birth, and while breastfeeding may interfere with the hormones that cause sexual drive,” Kingsberg explains.
“Additionally, if you’re breastfeeding, you may think of your body—and your breasts in particular—as maternal and not sexual. Or, you may be ‘touched out’ by having constant contact with baby.” Add to all of that a potential shift in body image and a lack of time, energy, and privacy, and your sex drive can go totally MIA.
- Relationship issues
Both current and past relationships can take a toll on your sex life. Previous traumas, a partner’s sexual dysfunction, infidelity, not feeling connected to your partner, trust issues, and more can all make it hard to want to be intimate.
- Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD)
HSDD is the “persistent loss of sexual thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and interest in sex that causes distress,” Kingsberg explains. You may have HSDD if you know what it’s like to want to have sex and masturbate, yet you no longer feel that way. If this feeling lasts for at least six months and it bothers you, HSDD might be to blame.
What can I do about my lack of desire?
Many women just “deal with” the disappearance of their sex drive. In one recent survey* of 1,686 women ages 25 to 49, almost half of respondents who said they experienced symptoms of low sexual desire haven’t discussed them with anyone.
Plus, research shows that the majority of women with desire issues and distressing sexual problems don’t mention them to a healthcare provider, often because they’re too embarrassed or uncomfortable. But, “your sexual health is important to your overall health and quality of life, and treatments are available,” Kingsberg says. “You don’t need to suffer in silence.” So speak up!
- If a relationship or personal issue may be the cause…
Therapy, either alone or in combination with medication, can help you get your mojo back. “Psychotherapy can change the dynamic between a couple living with low desire or help a woman change her perception of how and what sex means to her,” Kingsberg says. It can also validate your experience, in turn helping you regain your confidence and sexuality.
- If pain during sex is the problem…
A physical exam can be the first step to diagnosing conditions that may be causing the issue, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis. Chatting with your doctor could help you figure out how to relieve pain caused by something more temporary, such as a lack of lubrication or a UTI.
- If you think your meds might be to blame…
It’s def worth talking to to your doctor to see if an alternative treatment option might be available.
- If becoming a new mom zapped your mojo…
Make sure you set aside time for yourself to exercise, eat well, and relax—all things that can help with a shift in body image and low energy levels. And def make time for the occasional date night. This will help you get out of mommy-mode so you can get your sexy back.
If you’re still not into the idea of having sex after a few months of taking more time for self care, see your doctor to rule out any other underlying issues.
- If you think HSDD might be to blame…
Your doctor can diagnose you by asking a set of questions about your sex drive. If it turns out that’s the cause, they may prescribe medication that raises dopamine and lowers serotonin (desire starts in the brain, not the genitals, Kingsberg explains), or a medication that activates melanocortin receptors, which increase sexual desire.
* Survey was conducted by Women’s Health & Cosmopolitan, in partnership with a pharmaceutical company that sells a drug to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).
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