Facing the Elephant in the Room
LOW LIBIDO CULPRITS: ADDRESSING THE CAUSES AND BOOSTING YOUR SEX DRIVE
During youth, the last thing you’re likely to worry about is losing your sex drive. Visual signs of age like wrinkles, weight gain, and thinning hair are on the distant radar screen. In contrast, considering a decline in libido as a rising tide of hormones rage through your body is unimaginable. Fast forward a few years and how things have changed! There are jobs to be done, bills to pay, medications to take, and children to raise. To make matters worse, anxiety or depression may set in, and fatigue lurks around every corner. Oh, and those hormones you used to take for granted, they’re not on vacation, they’ve left for good. Then one day you wake up and realize you’ve redefined “getting lucky.” It now means finding your car in the parking lot right off the bat, sleeping soundly throughout the night, or walking into a room and remembering what you came in for.
FACING THE “ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM”
Setting humor aside, a low libido is no laughing matter. It creates significant distress and anxiety for both men and women that reaches far beyond the bedroom. It can affect body image, self-confidence, self-worth and mood. Feelings of disappointment, frustration, or inadequacy may occur. For couples, it can lead to a downward spiral of blame and avoidance. Lack of sexual desire can slowly erode even the best relationship in an insidious way, fostering less intimacy and further losing a sense of connectedness.
Luckily, we live in an era where topics such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and low sex drive are no longer taboo. We explore ways to help us defy age and time. We talk about improving our appearance, health and well-being, and yes, even boosting our sex drive. So let’s get started!
HORMONES—THE USUSAL SUSPECTS
Today, we know hormonal imbalance can kill libido faster than you can think up a better excuse than “Not tonight, dear, I have a headache.” Managing your hormones to reclaim all sorts of things, including sexual desire, has become a big business as our population ages. You see it all over the place. Advertisements for “Low T” or low testosterone are common. They promise to help men feel vital and energized again. Women get hit with potential cures for hot flashes, night sweats, foggy brain, sleeplessness, mood swings, and more.
The truth is, we’ve only just started to understand exactly how the intricate cocktail of hormones in our bodies work together, and how hormone levels can safely and effectively be brought back into balance. In fact, we’re still trying to fully grasp what hormonal balance means for different people and how it’s affected by factors such as stress, lifestyle, diet, and age.
In a time when we can perform miracles we only dreamed of a few years ago, such as sequencing the human genome and facial transplants, why do we still wrestle with creating hormonal balance and relieving hormone deficiency? In part, it’s due to modern medicine and our increased knowledge about health and disease. Since people are living longer, it has only recently become a serious problem. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the life expectancy at birth for people born in 1900 was an average of 47.3 years. The life expectancy at birth for people born in 2010 is 78.7. As our life expectancy increases, so does the occurrence of hormone balance and deficiency problems.
Several hormones are naturally thrown off balance as women age and experience menopause. The main culprits contributing to low sex drive are the hormones progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. Too much progesterone and not enough estrogen can be attributed to a host of symptoms including low libido. On the other hand, too much estrogen (called estrogen dominance) and not enough progesterone is also problematic. It can be connected to a wide range of conditions including—you guessed it—decreased libido.
And there’s another hormone in the mix—testosterone. Testosterone contributes to healthy sexual function in both men and women. Men don’t have a monopoly on it! A woman’s ovaries and adrenal glands release relatively small quantities of testosterone into the bloodstream. At menopause, women experience a decline in testosterone that may be correlated with low libido.
Just as testosterone isn’t totally a man’s hormone, age-related hormone deficiency isn’t for women only. Male “andropause” includes testosterone deficiency syndrome (“Low T”) and androgen deficiency. According to the Mayo Clinic, some men have a lower than normal testosterone level without signs or symptoms. For others, low testosterone might cause a variety of problems including erectile dysfunction and reduced sexual desire.
THE BALANCING ACT AND THE CONTROVERSY
With an aging population and the growing knowledge that ties waning hormones to symptoms such as low libido, the answer seems like an easy one—balance and replace the deficient hormones. Simply put, it’s not as straight-forward as it seems. Compared to well-proven and widely-approved medical treatments, hormone therapy is relatively new. Proponents embrace it heartily and expound on the life-changing benefits. Naysayers point out lots of unknowns remain, and warn that potential risks may not be worth the purported rewards.
Amid the great hormone debate where doctors and other health experts agree to disagree, patients have a personal question to answer, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” Testosterone replacement therapy might increase the risk of heart attack, prostate cancer or other health problems in men. Hormone replacement therapy for women may increase the risk of certain cancers, stroke and more.
Along with this, another debate rages among medical professionals—are bioidentical hormones safer, i.e., do they carry less risk than “synthetic” prescription hormones? Bioidentical hormones are identical in molecular structure to the hormones women make in their bodies. According to Harvard Medical School, they’re not found in this form in nature, but are made, or synthesized, from a plant chemical extracted from yams and soy. Bioidentical hormone therapy is often called “natural hormone therapy” because bioidentical hormones act in the body just like the hormones we produce.
Concerning bioidentical hormones vs. prescription or “synthetic” hormones, and whether or not hormone therapy of any kind is safe, keep these things in mind. Some doctors and anti-aging experts claim bioidentical hormones are safer. Other doctors and medical professionals say there’s not enough evidence that proves a higher degree of safety. Others simply maintain that a hormone is a hormone—bioidentical or synthetic. If you suffer from symptoms of hormone imbalance or deficiency, whether or not you decide to undergo hormone therapy is a personal choice. Be sure to get second and third opinions, do your homework, and then make a decision you can live with.
REWIRE YOUR DESIRE
The lineup of usual suspect hormones isn’t the only reason your libido isn’t on fire. A host of emotional, physiological and lifestyle factors can put a damper on your sex life.
Some claim lack of sex can lead to low libido. So life gets in the way of sexual intimacy, what can you do about it? Stop worrying about the kids bursting into the boudoir unannounced? It goes beyond this. Fitting passion into your life is paramount, but unless you make time for each other and for intimacy, it may not happen. Recharge your passion by committing to being sexual. Don’t “schedule” a quickie, instead, think of it as creating opportunities. And remember to pay attention to your spouse. Turn off your cellphone and TV. Get off social media. Intimacy and multi-tasking are not compatible.
The Cortisol Connection
Stress and not getting enough sleep wreak havoc with your sex drive. Both may result in elevated cortisol levels, which leads to low libido. Cortisol is a hormone made by the adrenal glands. It helps the body manage stress and use sugar (glucose) and fat for energy. In men, elevated cortisol levels keep testosterone from being produced and also blocks the normal response of the testicles to testosterone. If you’re thinking double whammy libido killer, you’re right! In women, as cortisol levels increase, progesterone levels decrease. This can lead to a progesterone deficiency, causing estrogen dominance which is discussed in the section on hormones.
Reducing stress is an obvious solution, but it’s more easily said than done. In addition to getting more exercise and trying to relax more often, check out ways to identify the sources of stress in your life and how to reduce, prevent or cope with stress at HelpGuide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm.
Drinks and Drugs
Combining sex and drugs reduces rock and roll. While a glass of wine might help you relax and lower inhibitions, sharing a bottle can make it difficult to get aroused. Drugs, including prescription medications, can put your sex drive in reverse. Some medications used to treat depression, high blood pressure, and other common illnesses can affect libido or cause sexual dysfunction such as erectile dysfunction or difficulty achieving pleasure. Talk with your physician if you suspect your medications are interfering with your love life.
9 WAYS TO BRING SEXY BACK
- Express Yourself! Couples who discuss their sexual preferences report more satisfaction.
- Don’t Keep Up with the Joneses. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Stop worrying about how much sex you think you should have from what you see on TV or in films, and decide how much you want.
- Change your Routine. Break free from your hectic daily life and the stress that goes with it. Plan a weekend getaway from home with your sweetie. Unwind and have fun. When you’re relaxed and feeling good about yourself, sharing an intimate moment with your loved one may come naturally.
- Make the First Move. When you’re feeling disconnected from your spouse, your relationship and sex life suffer. Make the first move to reconnect with the person you fell in love with. Thank him or her for helping out around the house or show some gratitude for a job well done. Compliment him or her on a new hairstyle or something personal. Let them know how much you appreciate them and all they do.
- Exercise your Way into the Bedroom. Working out not only stimulates the body, nervous system and brain, the energy it brings can help put you in a more sensual state. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves circulation, and gets blood flowing to all the right places. It also gets you in the mood by reducing stress and boosting your self-esteem.
- Try Something New. It doesn’t have to be some far-out, crazy thing. Just mixing up the way you approach sex, or maybe taking more time instead of rushing through things, can make a big difference. Sex should have no real direction. A little of this, a bit of that, and voila!
- Read Between the Lines. There’s a reason why romance novels are so popular. They can spice up your ho-hum intimacy routine.
- Eat Healthfully. Everyday foods like pine nuts, avocado, black raspberries, watermelon, spinach, almonds, and even eggs and oatmeal contain vitamins and minerals that may boost your libido.
- Keep on Battling. Medicines that treat depression can kill your libido, but so can depression itself. It can hurt relationships and may cause loved ones to take these problems personally. Don’t stop depression treatment in fear of ruining your relationship and sex life. Instead, work with your doctor. There are antidepressants out there that don’t affect sex drive.
A healthy libido is part of being human, and our desire for sexual health and intimacy is natural and fulfilling. Whatever may be causing your lack of sexual desire, if it concerns you or is affecting you or those around you, seek help. Talk to your doctor about it or consult with a therapist if you believe it’s due to an emotional situation or relationship problems versus a medical or physiological condition. If you’re in a relationship, go ahead and talk about that elephant in the room. Sometimes open communication and talking through it can help rekindle a fire.
Sources: EverydayHealth.com, MayoClinic.com. Cancer.gov, HuffingtonPost.com, Census.gov, HealthyWomen.org, WebMD.com, Health.Harvard.edu, Self.com, FitnessMagazine.com, ClevelandClinic.com, CortisolConnection.com, HelpGuide.org,