By Dr. Hilary Booth, ND
Sex is a healthy part of life but we often shy away from talking about it, even if we have questions. This article is meant to get you thinking about your sex drive as it relates to your health because your sex drive can be a great indication of how your health is faring overall.
1. What is a “healthy” sex drive?
A “healthy” sex drive is different for everyone, and can vary depending on what’s happening in your life. Your healthy sex drive may be different from your partner’s healthy sex drive, and that’s okay. What makes a sex drive unhealthy is if you have persistent or recurrent lack of interest in sex that causes personal distress. This is key – if you feel that your low sex drive has become an issue in your life, it warrants further investigation.
Sex drive varies across our lifespan. It is normal for sex drive to decline as we age, however some women experience resurgence in sex drive after menopause. In ovulating women, sex drive can fluctuate within a menstrual cycle and it’s normal to experience a surge in sex drive as we ovulate
2. Common causes of low sex drive
We’ve all been there – you just don’t have the energy for intercourse. If fatigue is causing your sex drive to be low enough that it causes you distress, then it needs to be addressed. Fatigue is often caused by protein or nutrient deficiencies, stress/overwork, or poor sleep quality. My top tips for addressing fatigue are the following:
- Get lab testing done to see if low iron, B12, thyroid or cortisol levels are causing you to be tired.
- Sleep in complete darkness. Turn off all screens (including your cell phone) at least 30 minutes before bed, and start using a sleep mask every night.
- Increase your protein intake and reduce your sugar intake. Aim for 15-20g of protein with each meal, and less than 25g of sugar in a day.
b) Low hormone levels in menstruating (non-menopausal) women
Sex hormones include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, among others. Hormone levels can be low when we don’t eat enough cholesterol, and I see this frequently in young women who are eating low fat diets or have disordered eating patterns. Cholesterol is the major building block for your sex hormones, so without getting it from food, we’re unable to make enough the hormones we need to have a healthy sex drive. Women who exercise excessively or have a low body fat percentage (<18%) can also suppress sex hormone production and experience a decrease in sex drive. High stress can also cause low libido because the body shifts toward making more cortisol (stress hormone) instead of sex hormones when we’re stressed. Here are my top tips for addressing the underlying cause in each of these cases:
- Increase body weight to a healthy BMI (19-25), and exercise in moderation
- Eat healthy fats like coconut oil, nuts, eggs and avocado with every meal
- Reduce stress by taking on less (it’s okay to say no!), engaging in self care (have a bath or get a massage), and including deep breathing and mindfulness practices into your daily routine
- Test hormone levels to monitor success of diet and lifestyle changes
Low sex drive is common in menopause because of naturally declining hormone levels. In addition, menopause causes fatigue due to sleep disruptions, and can cause physical barriers to sex like vaginal dryness. There are natural supplements to help curb the decline in hormone levels, as well as bio-identical hormones that NDs can now prescribe. There are also vaginal creams and lubricants specially designed to support hormones during menopause. Consult with your ND before starting any hormone-affecting supplements or creams to make sure they are safe for you.
When we’re stressed, our nervous system is switched into a sympathetic state, also known as “fight or flight” mode, which is the opposite of the parasympathetic state, or “rest and digest” mode. As you can imagine, when the body is preparing to either fight or run away from a threat, we’re not in the mood for sex. The problem is that our body can’t tell the difference between the stress of a work email coming in at 11pm and being chased by a lion – we flip into sympathetic mode, and sex drive is reduced. De-stressing can be tough, but my top tips are as follows:
- Learn to say no and ask for help instead of taking on too much
- Set firm boundaries with work colleagues, friends and family members
- Practice meditation, mindfulness, yoga and/or deep breathing
- Consider cortisol (stress hormone) testing and treatment with your ND to reduce your stress levels and support the adrenals
Some medications cause low sex drive. The most common are the birth control pill, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Do not discontinue your medication without consulting your prescribing MD. However, you may consider talking to your doctor about your current prescriptions if they are causing distress for your sex life, and your ND may be able to offer an alternative to some of your prescription medications.
3. Other factors
There are many other factors that may contribute to your sex drive. These factors may include the health of your relationship, finding time with kids in the picture, emotional concerns like anxiety or body image issues, or physical barriers like pain. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I always treat the underlying cause of disease. This might mean that to improve your sex drive we need to address your pain, or refer you to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to address the mental/emotional aspect of sex.
4. The bottom line
Unfortunately, there’s no magic supplement or quick fix for a low libido. Everyone’s sex drive is different and that is okay. It’s when it becomes an issue for you (not your partner) that it should be addressed. I recommend looking into your hormones, mental and emotional health, and nutrient status as a starting place if you’re not sure what might be causing your low sex drive. Sex drive is a complex subject, and your ND is here to help you find and address the root cause to get your sexual health back on track.