By Christian Jean Francia
What is Libido?
Libido, in layman’s terms, is the human sex drive or appetite for sex. It is influenced by many factors such as biological sex hormones, social environment and personality. A person may have a desire for sex, but due to personal, moral or religious reasons, do not have the chance to satisfy this desire.
Sex drive is essential in keeping an intimate relationship. A change in sexual desire, often characterized by a need for different sexual partners, can be an indication that one is not satisfied with his/her current relationship.
Libido in Psychology
Many people see libido as pure sex. But for the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, it is defined in broader terms. According to Freud, libido is the energy that originates from the instincts or drives that direct human behavior (x). He also believes that the libido is present in the three parts of our personalities — the id, ego, and superego. The id is where we find pleasure. It seeks the gratification of sexual urges and needs as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, the power of the body’s libido becomes lesser due to the ego. It takes into consideration the social rules that exist before gratifying our sexual needs. Finally, the superego stresses the importance of morality and social values first before satisfying our sexual desires.
Hormones that Affect Sexual Drive
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the glands inside the body. In women, the hormones responsible for sexual desires are estrogen, progesterone and testosterone (x).
Testosterone is the most potent hormone for sex. Like estrogen, it is present in both males and females, but is more prominent in males. The ovaries and the two small glands near the kidneys secrete the testosterone. A high level of estrogen in women stimulates vaginal lubrication and arousal.
In men, testosterone is the hormone linked to sexual desire (x). It is the testicles that secrete it. Testosterone level is usually high in the morning and low at night. In a man’s lifetime, his libido is at its peak during his teen and late teen years.
What Causes Low Libido?
It is normal to be uninterested in sex sometimes. However, low libido, the decreased interest in sex for an extended period, may raise some concerns for other people. In some cases, there may be underlying causes or health conditions that cause it.
Here are some of the most probable reasons:
Physical Risk Factors
The testicles secrete testosterone. Aside from sex drive, it is responsible for the production of a man’s sperm and the building of muscle mass. The decrease in the said hormone also decreases the sex drive. The average testosterone level in men varies from one another. However, a man’s testosterone level can be considered low if it falls below 300 ng/dL (x).
Some medicines have adverse side effects like a decrease in a man’s testosterone level. These medications include:
- Radiation and chemotherapy treatments (x)
- Opioids, like morphine and oxycodone
- Ketoconazole, an antifungal medicine
- Hormones used to treat prostate cancer
- Anabolic steroids
- Cimetidine (Tagamet), which is used for heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Some antidepressants
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Heavy drinkers of alcohol of more than 14 mixed drinks in a week have been associated with low testosterone levels, therefore reducing the sex drive over some time. Men who drink three or more alcoholic beverages regularly should regulate their intake. Also, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Trusted Source recommends that an average adult should drink fewer alcoholic beverages in a day (x). Aside from alcohol, the use of marijuana, tobacco and other drugs like opium also contributes to the decrease of testosterone. Smoking also harms the production of sperm among males.
Psychological Risks Factors
Depression is a psychological disorder in which one loses interest in any activity that they previously found pleasurable. Sexual intercourse is one of them (x). Antidepressant medicines that people who suffer from depression take can also lower the libido as a side effect. These medicines include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like sertraline and fluoxetine
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
Sexual desire may also decrease if a person is suffering from extreme pressure and stress (x). The loss of a person’s sex drive can be due to some hormonal changes that occur when someone experiences stress. Scientific research and essay support the idea that stress is closely associated with the sexual problems between a man and a woman.
Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss negatively affects our sex drive — the lack of sleep results in low energy, fatigue and low libido level. Tension and anxiety increase as energy decreases. If all of this happens at the same time, it can cause sexual dysfunction. Males who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, an inability to breathe correctly during sleep, are reported to have low libido (x).
Menopause causes a negative effect on a woman’s libido levels (x). It is difficult for a woman to be aroused at this stage since her testosterone and estrogen levels decrease. The decrease in estrogen causes vaginal dryness because the blood supply in the vagina drops. It can also cause vaginal atrophy, also known as the thinning of the vaginal wall. These two conditions cause discomfort during sexual activity.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Most women’s sex drive changes after giving birth and when breastfeeding. During this stage, their hormone levels fluctuate. The prolactin hormone cranks to stimulate the breast to secrete milk. High prolactin level decreases the estrogen level, which also reduces the sex drive (x). Aside from that, testosterone levels also decrease when breastfeeding. After a few months, the hormones will start to go back to its natural level, which is also the same with the desire for sex.
Metabolic syndrome is a condition that includes the presence of abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, waistline obesity, and high blood pressure. Studies show that men with low testosterone are more prone to metabolic syndrome than those who don’t. Some studies reported that testosterone replacement has a positive effect on blood sugar levels and obesity in men with low testosterone (x). However, testosterone therapy is not recommended for treating metabolic syndrome because it increases the chance of a person from having a heart attack.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS patients experience sexual discomfort and dysfunction during sex due to hormonal imbalances (because excess androgens can throw a woman’s hormones out of order, which affects the sexual function) (x).
Low Libido vs. Sexual Dysfunction
Most people mistake low libido levels to sexual dysfunction. A low libido level is different from sexual dysfunction, although the two can happen at the same time. Sexual dysfunction is a type of issue, either physical or mental, that prevents someone from getting satisfaction when engaging in sexual intercourse. It is a prevalent issue in men as they age. The main types of male sexual dysfunction are:
- Problems in having and keeping an erection, also known as an erectile dysfunction
- Hard to reach orgasm or not have an orgasm at all
- Decreased sex drive
- Reaching orgasm too fast
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
This is the condition in which a woman has no sexual fantasies or thoughts and is bothered by the lack of interest in sex. HDD can be caused by many factors, such as physical conditions like thyroidism. Medications, relationship issues, and imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain can also be the culprit behind having HDD. Treatment for this disorder includes counseling and sex therapy alone or with the partner of the patient. Taking medicines to address this should be approved by a medical practitioner first.
Supplements to Boost Libido
In a study conducted, taking 30 milligrams per kilogram of red ginseng per day has improved sexual desire and function (x). Red ginseng also increases the production of nitric oxide, which helps the blood circulation and helps relax the muscle of the penis. Studies have shown that this herb is twice as effective as a placebo at enhancing erectile function.
More research needs to be conducted as to the effect of red ginseng in sexual function because some experts are still questioning its effectiveness. Red ginseng should be taken in moderation. It has reported side effects like headaches and upset stomachs, and it may also interact with blood thinners.
This herb is a traditional herbal medicine used to enhance sex drive and fertility. There are food supplements in powder and in capsule form that are readily available. In a study, 42% of men who took 1,500–3,000 mg of this herb every day reported an improvement in their sexual desire (x). This root vegetable is also used to treat erectile dysfunction. Also, some evidence proves that maca may help fight the loss of libido as a side effect of taking antidepressant drugs. Taking 1.5–3.5 grams daily for at least 2–12 weeks is enough to boost libido. Maca is generally safe, with no significant side effects. However, those who are pregnant should consult a doctor first before taking it.
This perennial plant from arctic regions can boost sexual drive in both men and women. It also helps premature ejaculation among men because of its zinc, folic, and biotin combination. Its possible effect in sexual function is linked to its antidepressant properties. Aside from its function as a libido booster, it is also used for other health concerns such as improving cognition, mood mechanism, and relief from stress. Rhodiola is generally safe with a well-tolerated dosage of 660 mg/day, combined with vitamin C.
Men may want to consider L-arginine as one of their options to improve erectile dysfunction. It is derived from the human body naturally as well as in food sources like meat, fish, and poultry. However, there are also pharmaceutical supplements that are sold in the market. L-arginine, as an amino acid, helps in making protein. It also becomes a nitric oxide, which is significant for a person who has erectile dysfunction because it relaxes the blood vessel. It allows the circulation of oxygen-rich blood, which is vital in having a healthy penis erection. Speak with a doctor before taking this supplement as it has numerous possible side effects, which include fluctuation in blood sugar levels, decreased blood pressure, increased risk, and bleeding. The dosage of this supplement may depend on the health condition where it is used for. The daily recommended dosage for this is set at 5 grams per day.
Yohimbe is an herbal supplement often used in West Africa to improve erectile dysfunction. Some people also use this as a weight loss aid. It is often sold in capsule form. It works as a libido booster by blocking alpha-2 adrenergic receptors, which prevents erection. It also releases nitric oxide that helps in keeping the blood flow in the sexual organ healthy. Taking Yohimbe, however, may come with potential dangers like increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and anxiety. It is recommended to take 5.4 mg of this supplement three times a day, orally. If side effects occur, a person can lower down the dosage.
One study found out that zinc deficiency contributes to erectile dysfunction among older men. Another study was conducted that shows that there is a significant increase in testosterone levels among men who were given zinc supplementation (x). For a male adult, 11 mg/day is an ideal amount, while women can take up to 8mg/day. Ingesting more than the said amount can cause vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Ashwagandha is considered to be one of the most effective sexual stimulants and a common ingredient in herbal aphrodisiac products. This woody flowery plant native in India and North Africa helps the body in producing nitric acid, which dilates the blood vessels in the genitals. When this happens, it increases a person’s sexual drive and satisfaction. It also helps in testosterone production. It increases a man’s sperm count and inhibits the level of cortisol in the body, which keeps the body’s proper sexual functioning. This is generally safe with a well-tolerated dosage, but pregnant women and people with autoimmune diseases should avoid this.
This herb is one of the most popular Chinese herbal medicine derived from the Ginkgo Biloba tree. It is used to cure many ailments, including low libido levels. Acting as an aphrodisiac, it relaxes the blood vessel and increases blood flow. In one study, it shows that Ginkgo Biloba improves the libido level of patients who take antidepressant medications. Both men and women who participated in the study said that they feel increased sexual desire and orgasm after taking 60-120 milligrams daily (x).
Red clover is a plant rich in isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen or also known as plant estrogen. This is an herbal medicine taken orally to relieve menopausal symptoms like low sex drive, night sweats, and hot flushes. One study of Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that women who took 80 mg of red clover for 90 days improved not only their libido but also their sleep, mood, and energy (x). This supplement has no reported adverse side effects, but women may have minor side effects such as headache, acne, skin rash, and breast tenderness.
Tribulus Terrestris is a leafy plant mostly found in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. This plant has been used as a traditional Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurveda medicine and generally used as a supplement for health. This supplement does not increase a person’s testosterone level, but it may boost his/her libido. A study reported that men with low sex drive who consumed 750-1500 mg/day or Tribulus Terrestris for two months had increased the sexual desire of 79% (x) while 69% of women experienced an improvement in their sexual desire after taking 500-1500 mg for 90 days (x). It is also reported that this supplement can improve arousal and satisfaction among women with low libido with a recommended dose of 1500 mg daily (x). It is generally safe and does not show adverse side effects other than stomach cramps and acid reflux for those who take too much of the supplement.
Other Natural Methods to Boost Libido
Sticking to a healthy diet and avoiding unhealthy types of food promotes not only a healthy body but also keep a healthy sexual life. Maintaining a healthy diet can prevent a person from acquiring metabolic syndromes, cardiovascular diseases, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which harms one’s physical and sexual functioning. Eating food types rich in vegetables, low in sugar, and high in lean protein can prevent ailments that affect the libido. Eating dark chocolate also improves a person’s sex drive because of its mood-lifting effect. It promotes the release of phenylethylamine and serotonin into the body.
Manage Stress and Anxiety
Anxiety and stress due to intense work schedules, responsibilities, and other life issues disrupt the sexual desire of a person. It is also difficult for a person to maintain an erection if he is stressed, experiencing anxiety or depression. When a person is stressed, he/she experiences a decrease in his/her libido levels and increase the risk of having sexual dysfunction. Some techniques are suggested to help manage stress, including:
- practicing good sleep hygiene
- eating a nutritious diet
- working to improve relationships
- exercising regularly
- making time for a favorite hobby
- talking to a therapist
A hectic schedule prevents a person from getting enough sleep. Therefore, being busy makes it hard to find time for sex. People who have multiple responsibilities are often left exhausted, which makes them lose their sex drive. Taking naps and eating healthy food types rich in protein and carbohydrates can boost a person’s energy and sex drive.
Regular exercise can help boost libido in various ways. It helps both men and women achieve their ideal body structure, improve their libido levels, and enhance the quality of their relationships. It also prevents a person from getting ailments that can affect the libido level like diabetes and obesity. In a study, the testosterone level of a person who exercises regularly is significantly higher than those who don’t (x).
Quit Smoking and Regulate Drinking
Smoking cigarettes and excessive alcohol drinking can cause cardiovascular diseases. It should be noted that good heart health is essential in maintaining good sexual function. Smokers and heavy drinkers find it difficult to maintain the erection during sex, and it can dehydrate women’s vagina for those in the female gender.
The Bottom Line
Libido is a person’s drive for sex. Maintaining a good sexual relationship is essential in keeping a strong relationship between partners. Nowadays, libido is affected by many factors like biological, psychological, and social dispositions. However, there are various ways to improve sexual drive. A person can either choose between taking supplements and herbal medications or considering natural approaches to boost the libido level.