According to new research* female sex drive is at an all time low. Relate reported a 240% increase in couples attending counselling for loss of desire between 1996 and 2002. The Kinsey Institute is also due to publish a survey that suggests women today are having less sex than their grandmothers. So why is this and what can we do about it?
*Psychologies Magazine July 2011
Most women experience low libido at some point and it’s usually situational – during pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, or a period of stress in the relationship or at work. This is normal and caused by hormonal imbalances in the body, which can make us feel tired, weepy and unable to sleep properly. During the perimenopause (the period leading up to menopause) lack of progesterone makes the vaginal walls thinner, so we produce less natural lubricant and this can make sex feel dry and uncomfortable.
‘Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder’
To a degree, women’s sexual problems have been medicalised and within the health community this is contentious. The race is on to develop a pill for female desire that works as well as Viagra but so far, trials haven’t been successful because female sexuality is far more complex, involving the emotions as well as a physical response.
The medical term for low sexual desire is ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ and in the US it’s estimated that 43% of women suffer from this with 5-15% experiencing it long-term. So far, no studies have been done in the UK. Symptoms of HSDD include no sexual desire, an absence of sexual thoughts or fantasies and not being receptive to touch. Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit studied the brain activity of women with low libido and found the patterns differed from women with a ‘normal’ libido. There was no rush of blood to certain regions of the brain when these women were subject to erotic stimulus. It’s an interesting development that indicates low sex drive isn’t ‘all in the mind’.
Solutions – Boosting Your Libido
If you’ve noticed you are less responsive sexually and it’s bothering you, the first step is to take a trip to the doctors and ask for a hormone level test. This will check your sex hormone levels – estrogen, progesterone and testosterone – to see if they are within the normal range. It will also rule out any other health issues that might be having an impact such as diabetes, thyroid function, medications and contraception. I came off the contraceptive pill a few years ago as it was having an impact on my mood and sex drive.
Review your lifestyle and diet and get rid of the things that are exacerbating stress. Do you give yourself time to relax and be sexual or are you running on empty most of the time? Is it situational – i.e. are you attracted to other men and bored with your partner and the type of sex you’re having? If you’re not sure what you like, watch a few erotic films and note down which scenes turn you on. Sex therapy and couples counselling will help you to move forward if you’re prepared to do it together.
Professor John Studd who heads the London PMS and Menopause Clinic has lots of information on his website about female libido. He describes it as ‘changes to the heart, head and hormones’ and advocates hormonal therapy. ‘It is easy to increase the libido by hormonal therapy and apart from the obvious increase in sexual events, such as fantasies, both intercourse, masturbations and orgasms, there is also the knock-on effect that women are happier, have more energy, and give out an aura of being sexually confident. Women speak of the extra advantages that attend an improvement in the libido, particularly their enthusiasm for life, self-confidence at work, and a greater feeling of friendship with their partner,’ he says.
Dr Elizabeth Vliet has written two books on hormones and sexuality in which she describes the loss of impact of testosterone on sex drive: ‘It’s My Ovaries, Stupid’ and ‘The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Testosterone’. She also has a radio talk show called ‘It’s Not All in Your Head – Hormones and Sex Drive’. Testosterone has a massive impact on sex drive and influences what is referred to as ‘the circle of sex’ – interest, arousal, response, lubrication and arousal. Supplements are available so this is something to discuss with your health practitioner when you have your hormone levels tested.
Keep your own diary of any triggers or changes that may be affecting your sexual response. Is it linked to your diet, weight, emotions, or contraception? Are you perimenopausal? Are you still ovulating mid-cycle? This information will be useful for your doctor.
Make an effort to reawaken your sensual side – it is still there and our sexuality is constantly evolving. Biologists say that we are the only species in which women are turned on by their own pheromones, so feeling sexy is part of your allure. Eat well and don’t diet – the body needs a certain level of fats and cholesterol to produce sex hormones. Drink plenty of water and exercise regularly to get the endorphins moving as this will give your body more confidence. Buy some lovely lingerie and have a proper bra fitting. Keep yourself open to sensual opportunities with regular massages and beauty treatments. I recommend a marma touch treatment for sensory awakening with passion coach Vena Ramphal. Strengthen your PC muscle to improve sensitivity and explore aphrodisiacs such as sepia, damiana and maca root.
Dixie Mills, MD has five tips for a glowing libido on the website Women to Women. She suggests visiting an upmarket sex store for inspiration – Coco de Mer is very sensual and you can browse through the latest sex books. Try out some new positions and techniques, and watch an erotic film observing what turns you on. She also recommends the courses at Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, NY.
Loss of libido doesn’t mean the end of your sex life – it is temporary so keep this in mind. It’s possible to enjoy a healthy sex life into your 70s and beyond. You may need to adapt positions and techniques and do things a little differently but it’s all part of our evolution. Staying emotionally close and connected is the most important thing when it comes to libido. As the author Rosie King says: ‘The most powerful libido enhancer of all is a loving, respectful, supportive relationship’.