We live in a world bombarded with images, ideas and influences about sex. It’s challenging to sift through sexual truth versus sexual myth. Many people wonder what is a healthy and normal sex life. Questions such as, “How does my sex life compare to others? Is something wrong with me if I’m not interested in sex? Is everyone having more sex and better sex than I am?” At the core, “Is my sex life normal?”
There is a range of what is “normal” in sexuality.
Throughout the week, in this three-part post, I am going to address sexual health and functioning, starting with Sexual Desire and Libido. I want to provide solid information and encourage you to think about your sexual health and/or if applicable, have a dialogue with your partner about your sex life. Later in the week, I will be posting Part II: A Healthy Sex Life. What You Need to Know and finally, Part III: Strategies to Address and Improve Your Sex Life.
For many, talking about sex is vulnerable, uncomfortable and an avoided topic. But once people start talking about sexual functioning in therapy or with their partner, there is often an enormous sense of relief, and lessened worry, guilt, and shame.
First up, Sexual Desire and Libido.
In a previous post, Nine Tasks for a Healthy Marriage, task number six is to maintain sexual love and intimacy. A large contributor to sexual health is sexual desire, also known as libido. Sexual desire is a broad term used to describe an individual’s biological desire to engage in sexual activity. Libido is more than a biological drive; sexual desire also includes a person’s emotional and psychological willingness to engage in sexual activity. If a person has impaired desire or is in a relationship with someone who has low sexual desire, chances are, someone in the relationship is experiencing frustration.
Sexual desire changes throughout one’s life and circumstances. For example, to think one’s sexual desire will never change and remain what it was before children, truly sets a couple up for unrealistic expectations and frustration. Libido changes, both increases and decreases, throughout life. However, if long-term sexual desire problems persist, decreasing sexual activity, over time, this pattern can lead to significant resentment within a couple.
Did you know, according to research on sexual health, the most reported reason for couples to start sex therapy is for sexual desire problems. According to Dr. Barry McCarthy, a psychologist and expert on sexual health and functioning, one in three adult women and one in seven adult men, have sexual desire problems. For men, sexual desire problems increase as a man ages.
All of the following can impact sexual desire:
Loss of sexual desire is one symptom of depression. Chemical imbalances in the brain, as well as emotional symptoms, contribute to decreased desire and sexual activity. Emotionally, depressed people don’t feel good about themselves and/or others, and for many, this shows up as a loss of interest in sexual activity.
Hormonal Issues, Changes, and Fluctuations
Women have a lot of hormonal fluctuations and changes that occur throughout their life span. Menstruation, peri-menopause, and menopause are all driven by hormones and cause variability in a woman’s sexual desire. Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all contribute to the ebb and flow of a woman’s libido during the beginning, middle and end of her reproductive years. As a woman enters peri-menopause, which can last many years, significant hormonal changes occur altering libido, often decreasing sexual desire.
Hormonal issues associated with thyroid disease is another example of how hormones can impact sexual desire. Hypothyroidism presents very similar to depression; including loss of sexual desire.
New Moms and Breastfeeding Moms
New moms are often directed to wait at least six weeks after childbirth to resume sexual activity. Many new moms are too physically exhausted to think even about sex! If a new mom is breastfeeding, hormonal changes from nursing, as well as physical changes from childbirth can make resuming sexual activity uncomfortable and/or painful.
Nursing a baby or child can lower libido because of the hormones needed to maintain breastfeeding. Even if a nursing mother has an interest in sex, physically, intercourse can be uncomfortable or painful because the hormonal changes associated with breastfeeding increase vaginal dryness, making intercourse uncomfortable and/or painful.
Numerous medical conditions will impact sexual desire including cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and neurological disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis.
Deficiencies in Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, mimics many depressive symptoms, including loss of sex drive.
Prescribed and Over the Counter Medication
Medication, both prescribed and over the counter, can decrease or alter sex drive. Examples of such medication include; certain types of antidepressants and birth control pills, medication used for prostate issues, antihistamines, beta blockers, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet.
Drugs and Alcohol
Many people use alcohol as a way to relax into sexual activity. Many people abuse alcohol and have alcohol dependence that decreases not only sexual desire, but sexual performance. Marijuana and other drugs also decrease libido.
Lifestyle Demands and Concerns
Stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, financial strain, infertility, unemployment, and worry can all reduce sexual desire. For many people, the demands of work, caring for a family and managing all that goes into raising a family will impact sexual desire. Stress, sleep deprivation, and no time sans children are big libido drains for many parents.
Boredom can be a reason for lowered libido. Many couples get stuck in the same sexual patterns and are apprehensive to have a caring, honest and thoughtful conversation about sexual preferences or desires. When talking about anything related to sexuality with your partner, it is important to do so in a loving, non-critical way. Sexual intimacy is far too delicate to be harsh, critical, shaming or demanding.
As you can see from the above mentioned, sexual desire provides valuable information on an individual’s and couple’s emotional, psychological and physical health and overall well-being.
If you believe you have sexual desire concerns, check first with all of the above-mentioned possible reasons for low sex-drive before you start labeling yourself or your partner in negative terms. Understand the issues that contribute to desire problems and then work to fix your concerns. Consulting with your Primary Care Physician, OB/GYN, and/or support from a therapist, are some of the ways you can begin to address sexual desire issues.
Sexual health matters.
Please stop by on Tuesday for Part II: A Healthy Sex Life. What You Need to Know and later in the week, Part III: Strategies to Address and Improve Your Sex Life.
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© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2015