Medically reviewed by William Ross Perlman, PhD, CMPP on December 16, 2019. Written by Libby Pellegrini. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Your libido, otherwise known as your sex drive, can significantly affect your overall quality of life and sexual well-being. For some people, having a decreased interest in sexual activity can not only cause personal distress, but can also strain relationships with romantic partners. The good news is that there’s a wealth of research around low and high libido, and (for many cases) medical professionals now know how to increase libido in women and men, with many options and treatments available to help with sex drive and sexual satisfaction.
If you’re regularly experiencing a low sex drive (and you don’t know why), read on to learn what affects libido in women and men—as well as what can help increase libido—giving you a better idea of how to boost sex drive and enhance overall sexual health.
Libido refers to someone’s sex drive—the level of sexual desire and sexual motivation they have. When someone experiences a lower libido, they have decreased sexual interest (low sexual desire). Low libido is part of a larger medical category of sexual dysfunction, which also includes the physical loss of sexual function—which isn’t the same as a loss of libido.
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that play many key roles, and can affect sleep quality, metabolism, mood, and more—including your sex life. Certain hormone imbalances in women as well as men—like the ones mentioned below—can result in a low libido.
Testosterone is a hormone that plays an important role in the sex drive of both men and women. Testosterone also affects many other crucial body processes, such as muscle strength, bone density, and fat storage. Having a testosterone level that is too low, also known as a testosterone deficiency, can cause low sexual desire. Low testosterone levels in men is a condition known as “hypogonadism.”
Testing testosterone levels can help you make sure you don’t have an imbalance in this key hormone. You can check your testosterone level to see if you’re producing an adequate amount of testosterone with the Everlywell Testosterone Test. This test only requires a simple saliva sample and comes with everything you need to collect your sample from the convenience of home.
Estradiol is the main form of estrogen in women. It’s a sex hormone responsible for the health and function of the female sexual organs. Estradiol levels tend to decrease in women during menopause and in women who are postmenopausal, which can lead to a loss of libido.
Check your estradiol level and levels of two other hormones related to the menopausal transition with the Everlywell at-home Perimenopause Test. This simple finger-prick blood test can detect abnormalities in these hormone levels so you can better understand if hormones might be behind the low libido you experience. Other possible symptoms to look for may include perimenopause sleep problems, vaginal dryness, irregular periods, mental fatigue, and more.
Chronic stress can elevate the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, which can increase inflammation throughout the body and, in turn, decrease libido. High cortisol levels can also contribute to a decreased quality of sleep, which can also negatively affect libido.
Check your level of the main hormones related to stress and sleep with an at-home cortisol test. By collecting a urine sample at four points throughout the day, you’ll be able to measure your cortisol (stress hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone) levels and see how they fluctuate over a 24-hour period. This can help you understand if you may be experiencing chronic stress or why you may have low sleep quality.
In some men, erectile dysfunction—a kind of male sexual dysfunction—can ultimately lead to an eventual loss of libido. Common factors associated with erectile dysfunction include aging, obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, thyroid conditions, cigarette smoking, diabetes, restless leg syndrome, prostate cancer, obstructive sleep apnea, and heart disease. In fact, some research shows that among men with low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, low libido, and decreased frequency of having sex correlate with a high 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease.
In women, female sexual dysfunction can also result in lowered libido, which may be connected to uterine fibroids, endometriosis, obesity, high blood pressure, or menopause. Taking certain medications, such as hormonal birth control pills (a form hormone therapy) and those used to treat mood disorders, can also decrease libido in some women.
If you’re experiencing low or unpredictable libido levels and don’t know why, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider to help narrow down possible causes. Your healthcare provider can conduct a thorough health history and screen for medical conditions that could be contributing to decreased libido. Managing or treating an underlying medical condition may alleviate the symptom of reduced libido.
Also, improving your sleep quality and reducing stress may help increase libido. Regular exercise can also have a positive effect on libido.
If you’re wondering how to increase libido, read on for other ways to potentially improve libido.
The methods to increase libido often differ in men and women, and many require collaboration with a healthcare provider.
If a man’s reduced sex drive is caused by a testosterone deficiency, or hypogonadism, testosterone replacement therapy can restore sex drive. Testosterone can be replaced in a variety of forms, including injections, topical gels, or oral formulations.
If the decrease in male libido stems from an initial decrease in erectile function, methods to restore sexual function—such as oral medications—can lift libido.
For women, a decreased libido may be diagnosed as a symptom of hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). This condition can be improved with a specific form of counseling therapy known as sex therapy. Medication is sometimes prescribed for HSDD.
If a woman’s low libido results from the body’s lack of natural vaginal lubrication, a topical estrogen medication may help improve symptoms.
Hormone levels can contribute to low libido in both men and women. Take the Everlywell at-home Testosterone Test, Men’s Health Test, Perimenopause Test, or hormonal imbalance test for women to check key hormones that affect sex drive and sexual health.
Ho CH, Wu CC, Chen KC, Jaw FS, Yu HJ, Liu SP. Erectile dysfunction, loss of libido and low sexual frequency increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in men with low testosterone. Aging Male. 2016 Jun;19(2):96-101. Epub 2016 Jan 11. PMID: 26755067.