Sex drive refers to the strength of an individual’s motivation to engage in sexual behaviour. Frequency and intensity of desire can be a measure of sex drive.
Female mammals get interested in mating only when they are in heat or ‘oestrus’ phase of their fertility cycle. Oestrus is related to secretion of oestrogen hormone into the blood stream. Therefore, in lower mammals, the sex drive is hormone driven. The male mammals, on the other hand, are mostly in readiness for mating. Their sex drive is primarily induced by the behaviour and scent given out by a receptive female.
Sex in humans is different from other biological needs because it is not necessary for individual survival, but essential for propagating the gene pool and group survival. Sex drive is human females is not purely driven by sex hormones.
In human females, biological, psychological and social factors play a role in the sex drive.
- Biological factors: Oestrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone (hormones produced in small quantities in the female body also) influence the sex drive.
- Psychological and social factors: Body image, intimacy, privacy, religious/cultural beliefs, previous sexual experiences, relationship issues, sex abuse and various other psychosocial factors can influence sexual drive.
Low sex drive in women
A woman’s sexual desire will fluctuate during her lifetime. Sexual desire can increase or decrease during major life events, beginning or end of a relationship, pregnancy, menopause and illness.
You may want to have sex less frequently than your partner or you may notice that your sex drive has reduced compared to what it was previously. However, this may be normal at that particular stage in your life and it may not be causing any distress to you or your partner and your relationship may be going strong.
There is no absolute definition as to what constitutes normal sex desire. Some may want to have sex daily and some may be happy with less frequent sex. However, if the woman lacks a desire for sexual activity for some time that is causing her personal distress, then she may be experiencing hypoactive sexual desire disorder (now known as female sexual interest/arousal disorder – FSIAD).
What are the symptoms of low sex drive in women?
Some symptoms that may indicate a low sex drive in a woman include:
- Absence or infrequent sexual fantasies or thoughts.
- Lack of interest in any sexual activity, including masturbation.
- Distressed or worried about the absence of sexual fantasies and activities.
What are the causes for low sex drive in women?
A number of factors may impact a woman’s sex drive including physical illness, relationship issues, emotional problems, cultural beliefs, lifestyle, etc.
Some of the commonly recognised cause for low sex drive in woman include:
- Sex organ problems: If you have any condition in the reproductive organs that causes pain during sex or hampers the orgasm, you may not enjoy the sex and your sex drive may be reduced.
- Medical illnesses: Many medical diseases can reduce the sex drive such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, neurological diseases and other chronic disorders.
- Drugs: Some medications are known to reduce the sex drive in women. For example, certain antidepressants and anti-epileptic drugs.
- Habits: Smoking and excess alcohol intake can reduce sex drive.
- Body image issues: Any disfigurement or surgery in the body that causes changes to breasts or sex organs can affect the body image and reduce sex drive.
- Tiredness: Excess work or activity can cause fatigue and decrease sex drive.
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Sex drive can reduce during pregnancy and breast feeding due to hormonal changes, fatigue and lack of time during these periods.
- Menopause: There is a dip in oestrogen hormone levels during menopause, which can reduce the sex drive. Also, the vagina becomes dry and there may be discomfort during sex, which may decrease the interest of the woman to have sex.
- Religious or cultural beliefs that project sex in a negative way.
- Increased stress levels due to work or financial pressures.
- Low self-esteem.
- History of sexual abuse.
- Previous adverse sexual experiences.
Lack of emotional attachment with the partner may reduce sexual drive in many women. Relationship issues can lead to low sex drive. Some of the factors that can reduce sex drive include:
- Lack of emotional connect with the partner
- Fights or unresolved conflicts
- Suspicion and trust issue with the partner
- Lack of proper communication regarding sexual needs and preferences
When should a woman see a doctor for low sex drive?
If your low sex drive is causing you distress, consult your doctor.
Based on your medical history of personal distress due to lack of sexual desires and activity, your doctor may diagnose you with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
Some tests may be performed such as pelvic examination to look for problems in the reproductive tract, blood tests for sex hormones, thyroid, diabetes, cholesterol, etc.
You may be referred to a counselling psychologist or sex therapist for further evaluation of psychological and relationship issues.
How is low sex drive in women treated?
After evaluation of your condition, your doctor may recommend some general measures, along with specific treatments aimed at any problems that you may have.
- Communicate better with your partner about your sexual needs and preferences.
- Dedicate some time in your day and week for intimacy.
- Spice up your sex life by changing place of sex, positions, trying new methods, etc.
- Manage stress better at work and home.
- Quit all bad habits like smoking and excess alcohol intake that may be impacting your libido.
- Exercise regularly.
Change in current medicines
Your doctor will check your current medications to look for any medicines that are known to reduce the libido and suggest newer treatments which do not have such side effects.
Your doctor may refer you to a counsellor or sex therapist who is experienced in addressing psychosocial and relationship factors that are known to be associated with low sexual desire. You may be counselled along with your partner and given recommendations as to how you can handle any relationship issues and increase feelings of intimacy.
Oestrogen treatment (given as pill, skin patch, spray or gel) can increase sex drive in a menopausal woman and woman with oestrogen deficiency.
Flibanserin is a drug that is approved for use in pre-menopausal women for hypoactive sexual desire disorder. It may increase the sex drive marginally, but it is also associated with some serious adverse effects such as dizziness, fainting, nausea and sleepiness.
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- Graziottin A. The biological basis of female sexuality. Int Clin Psychopharmacol.1998 Jul;13 Suppl 6:S15-22.
- Module 10.2. Hunger,Thirst, Pain and Sex. Psychology: A Modular Approach to Mind and Behavior. By Dennis Coon. 2005. Cengage Learning.
- Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding Your Lost Libido. By Andrew Goldstein, Marianne Brandon. 2009. Rodale.