What causes a low sex drive?

How to increase your libido?


So what is a normal sex drive? Surely this will vary from person to person?

It is very true that sex drive or libido varies from person to person, and even varies in a person at different stages of their life and according to what is happening in their life at any particular time.

Low libido can affect both men and women and is only likely to be a problem if it causes stress to the sufferer, affects how a person feels about themselves or is having a detrimental effect on their relationship.

There are a number of situations that may lead to reduced libido and we will investigate the various causes.

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Causes of low libido in men and women

There are some causes of low libido that may apply to both men and women and they include:

Mental health - emotional and psychological factors

Psychological and emotional factors can markedly affect a person’s desire for sex; depression can be a major factor in this as can self-esteem, fatigue and history of sexual abuse. In addition, if a relationship is going through a rocky time there may be an emotional rift between the couple and this can result in levels of sexual desire diminishing.

Chronic illness

There are a number of chronic conditions which may impact a persons sex drive: 

  • Diabetes - high levels of sugar in the bloodstream found when a person has diabetes can lead to damage of the vascular and nervous systems. One of the results of this damage is reduced blood supply to the genitals of both men and women which in turn can lead to erectile dysfunction. In men, this can manifest as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection and for women, it can lead to reduced sensitivity in the sexual organs.  Both these conditions may leave the sufferers not wanting as much sexual contact.
  • In addition, people suffering from diabetes are more susceptible to bladder and yeast infections which may result in sex being painful
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) - this condition also affects vascular circulation and so will also result in reduced sensitivity and arousal
  • Heart disease - this can lead to blood vessel damage and poor circulation of the blood. This may lead in turn to the reduced blood supply to the genitals. Again this will result in reduced sensitivity so less arousal as well as less lubrication
  • Cancer treatment - surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can all affect libido levels
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea - if this condition is left untreated one of the symptoms of the condition can be reduced libido
  • Osteoarthritis - people with this condition may suffer from joint pain and stiffness which may make them less able, or inclined, to take part in sexual activity


There are some regularly prescribed medications that may have the effect of reducing sexual desire in a person. They include antidepressants, hypertensive medication (treatment for high blood pressure), antipsychotic drugs, medications for enlarged prostate glands and some hormonal contraceptives.

Excess alcohol consumption and the use of recreational drugs can cause reduced libido.

Low sex drive in women

Low libido also has some causes which are specific to women. They include:


As levels of oestrogen drop in women during menopause, this may, in turn, lead to sexually related problems such as thinning and dryness of the walls of the vagina which in turn can lead to sex being painful. This in turn may lead the woman to associate sex with pain which will lead to her being less inclined to have sex.

Women also produce small levels of the sex hormone testosterone, levels of which also drop during menopause. However, testosterone causes sexual desire in a woman and if the levels drop, so will the levels of sexual desire.


Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes both during the pregnancy and afterwards which may affect the woman’s sex drive. The hormonal changes may either diminish sexual desire or increase it depending on the individual woman involved

Low sex drive in men

The main cause of low sex drive in men is low levels of testosterone. It is a sex hormone that is produced by the testes and is responsible for a number of bodily functions related to sexual attributes.  It controls the body’s productions of body hair, facial hair, determines body and muscle mass, sperm production, bone density and sex drive. If the levels of testosterone are low this will lead to a low sex drive.

Conditions that may cause low levels of testosterone include:

  • Testicular trauma
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Use of anabolic steroids
  • Use of some medications
  • Chronic illness

Treatment for low libido

Treat the underlying condition

For good reason, treatment will very much depend on the cause of the reduced libido.

If a person is taking medication that is causing the problem, the GP will need to consider offering a suitable alternative.

If an underlying condition is causing the problem such as diabetes or heart disease, then the first step would be to treat the condition and see if it improves.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

In the case of women, oestrogen therapy can be useful in treating a reduced sex drive, particularly if it is associated with menopause. As yet, however, its efficacy is not proven for this symptom.

Oestrogen therapy can be given systemically as a pill to raise the level of oestrogen throughout the body or topically as a cream to treat specific areas such as the vagina where it will help to alleviate any dryness.

For men, testosterone replacement therapy can be given and this may be given via injections or topical patches.

Lifestyle changes

In general, the healthier a person’s lifestyle is, the more likely they are to have a healthy sex drive.

Consider your lifestyle and see how it may be improved, This may include:

  • Losing weight
  • Taking regular exercise
  • Improving your diet to include fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains and getting rid of unhealthy fats and refined sugars
  • Reduce or cut out alcohol
  • Stop smoking
  • Get enough sex
  • Reduce stress levels where possible

Counselling type therapies

If the reduced levels of libido can be attributed to depression, stress, anxiety or relationship issues there may be some type of counselling therapy that would help. It is important to seek the advice of your GP who will be able to advise on the most appropriate type of counselling treatment, be it sex therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) or another more suitable type of therapy.

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