What is low libido?

Libido refers to sexual desire, or the drive to have sexual activity. It is also commonly called 'sex drive'. A low libido means that you have a low interest in sex and this can affect both men and women. Everybody's interest level in sex is different and there is no 'normal' level.

Causes

Libido can be affected by numerous factors. Some reasons for a reduced libido can include:

Unhappy couple in bed.A low libido can affect both men and women. 

Antidepressant

Medication used to treat depression and other mood disorders.

Anxiety

A feeling of tension, nervousness and dread about future events. It can trigger physical symptoms such as a rapid pulse or breathing difficulties.

Cancer

A large group of diseases whose common feature is that they are caused by an uncontrolled growth of the body's cells.

Heart disease

A class of diseases that involves the dysfunction of the heart and/or the blood vessels.

Diabetes

A metabolic disorder that is caused by problems with insulin secretion and regulation and which is characterised by high blood sugar levels. Also known as diabetes mellitus.

Fatigue

A state of exhaustion and weakness.

Hormone

A chemical substance secreted in one part of an organism and transported to another part of that organism, where it has a specific effect.

Stress

The word ‘stress’ can have a variety of meanings, but generally describes the physical and mental responses of the body to a demand placed upon it. Often used to describe conditions where the demand is high or unable to be resolved and creates anxiety and tension.

Testosterone

A hormone that plays a key role in the development of male sexual characteristics and reproduction. It is produced by both sexes, but in much larger amounts in men.

Thyroid

A large gland located in the lower front part of the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, especially during childhood.

Methods for diagnosis

Low libido is defined as having limited sexual desire that, most importantly, is causing distress. A key to diagnosing low libido is determining how you and your partner feel about sexual desires. Some couples are not bothered by a lessened sex drive, while others are not happy if they believe they are not having a healthy sexual relationship. Diagnosis is therefore relative; if it is not causing any relationship problems, it may not be anything to worry about.

To help diagnose low libido, your doctor may give you a series of blood tests to rule out various physical causes of loss of libido including deficiency in certain hormones. The doctor may also explore relationship issues and depression

Hormones

A chemical substance secreted in one part of an organism and transported to another part of that organism, where it has a specific effect.

Types of treatment

Low libido is treated by identifying and addressing the cause. It is important to note that libido levels can naturally vary while you are in relationships and as you age. Partner dissatisfaction is the most common reason for people seeking treatment for low libido.

General advice

  • Seek medical advice from a supportive doctor;
  • Manage general health issues that may cause fatigue, such as iron deficiency anaemia, abnormal thyroid function (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism) and sleep apnoea;
  • Consider relationship counselling to address any relationship difficulties;
  • Where depression and/or anxiety is the cause of low sexual interest, treatment of these conditions may be beneficial;
  • Stress management strategies may be helpful if low libido is related to stress, and;
  • A medication review can identify certain medicines, such as antidepressants, which can impair sexual responsiveness.

Specific advice

For men:

  • Medication for erectile dysfunction is unlikely to treat low libido, and;
  • Androgen deficiency (low testosterone), as confirmed by a blood test, can be treated with testosterone replacement therapy. Testosterone can be administered by several methods such as tablets, skin patches, injections and implants. Regular monitoring is generally required by a specialist and, given that this is a relatively new area in medicine, the opinion on when to start treatment is variable.

For women:

  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or tibolone (a medication with certain female sex hormone function) can be useful in postmenopausal women with low libido; 
  • Occasionally, some forms of oral oestrogen, such as the oral contraceptive pill or HRT tablets, can lower testosterone levels and lead to low libido. A trial of these medications or a change to alternatives may be beneficial, and;
  • A trial of low-dose testosterone therapy may be appropriate in some postmenopausal women, especially those who do not respond to HRT. Although testosterone preparations are available in Australia, they are not government subsidised for treating low libido in women. Testosterone for women is available as a cream. In general, testosterone products approved for use in men should not be used by women because of the danger of excess testosterone.

Antidepressants

Medication used to treat depression and other mood disorders.

Anxiety

A feeling of tension, nervousness and dread about future events. It can trigger physical symptoms such as a rapid pulse or breathing difficulties.

Fatigue

A state of exhaustion and weakness.

Hormone

A chemical substance secreted in one part of an organism and transported to another part of that organism, where it has a specific effect.

Oestrogen

One of a group of steroid hormones involved in the development and maintenance of female sex characteristics. These are the primary female sex hormones.

Stress

The word ‘stress’ can have a variety of meanings, but generally describes the physical and mental responses of the body to a demand placed upon it. Often used to describe conditions where the demand is high or unable to be resolved and creates anxiety and tension.

Testosterone

A hormone that plays a key role in the development of male sexual characteristics and reproduction. It is produced by both sexes, but in much larger amounts in men.

Thyroid

A large gland located in the lower front part of the neck that produces hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, especially during childhood.

Postmenopausal

The stage in a woman's life where she no longer experiences menstruation. This is usually defined as occuring 12 months after her last period/menses.

Prognosis

Although low libido may be frustrating for you or your sexual partner, it is something that can normally be overcome. It is important to talk about the condition with each other and overcome it together. Everybody's libido is different and fluctuations in libido levels are common as relationship dynamics change, or as you age.

Prevention

To help prevent low libido, it is important to avoid any potential causes. This can include avoiding fatigue from working too much or not getting enough sleep. It can also help to deal with any psychological conditions including anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. Maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner by resolving any conflict and nurturing your relationship can also help prevent low libido.

Anxiety

A feeling of tension, nervousness and dread about future events. It can trigger physical symptoms such as a rapid pulse or breathing difficulties.

Fatigue

A state of exhaustion and weakness.