There are countless reasons behind why you may or may not want to have sex. These variables include: stress, biological or medical conditions, medication, relationship factors, trauma, the relationship you have with your body, and many more.
Low sexual desire can occur in both men and women and is characterized by lack of sexual thoughts and fantasies as well as little to no interest in sexual activity, including masturbation.
Everyone has varying levels of sexual desire. There is no set standard. If you’ve noticed a significant decrease in your libido (especially when low desire is not your norm), and it’s causing you distress, it may be time to consider the underlying cause. Often, there’s not one specific stressor or event that leads to low desire, but a number of factors that build up over time.
Reasons Why Your Sexual Desire May Have Changed
I can’t overemphasize how much the mind/body connection impacts your sexuality. Your stress levels affect you both mentally and physically, and chronic stress does a number on libido. If you’re preoccupied with your insurmountable to-do list, work stress, or marital/relationship issues (which I’ll highlight later), you’ll have less headspace to think about sex. If you’re not fully present and relaxed during sexual activity because you’re distracted by life stressors, it can impact your ability to connect with your partner and experience pleasure. It can also be difficult to feel sexy when you’re overworked and overwhelmed. Because stress can take a toll on your body (e.g., fatigue, muscle tension, headaches, digestive issues, etc.), it makes sense that you might not want to have sex when you’re not feeling well physically.
Aging and Hormones
Our bodies go through many different phases as we age and our hormones change. This can directly affect libido. Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy (not to mention the stress of caring for a newborn) can put a damper on desire. A decrease in estrogen levels during menopause can also lead to changes in desire as well as vaginal dryness. There are treatment options available that have helped many women enjoy active sex lives during and beyond menopause.
Various medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, low testosterone, high blood pressure, neurological conditions, and cancer, can have an impact on sexual desire. If you’re concerned that your medical problem is leading to low desire, it may warrant consultation with a medical professional.
Pelvic Pain Conditions
Pelvic pain is a medical condition that I want to highlight separately. Sex shouldn’t hurt. Depending on the root cause of the pain, there may be treatment options that can significantly reduce pain symptoms. Some patients (or their partners) are surprised by the decrease in sexual desire after the onset of pain symptoms (as if their desire should override the pain), but it’s a natural response to avoid activities that cause physical discomfort. I always recommend medical consultation to patients when pelvic pain symptoms are present.
Many medications have side effects that inhibit sex drive. For example, high blood pressure medication, cancer treatments, and antidepressants can have this effect. Unfortunately, anti-depressants can especially mess with your sexual desire, sexual performance, and ability to achieve orgasm. This certainly doesn’t mean you should come off of your antidepressant, but if the medication is significantly impacting your sex life, it may be worth discussing alternatives with your medical provider.
If you’re feeling depressed or experiencing a major depressive episode, you’re probably not going to be present enough to have a fulfilling sexual experience. If you’ve ever dealt with major depression, you know how hard it can be just to get through the day, let alone be sexually active with your partner.
If you and your partner are lacking emotional connection, trust, and open communication, this may impact your desire for sex. Also, sexual desire discrepancy, when one person wants to have sex significantly more than the other, can lead to conflict in a relationship which may ultimately lead the lower desire partner to want sex even less. Click here to learn more about desire discrepancy.
Any trauma can impact libido. If you or your partner have experienced sexual trauma, this can have a significant impact on your desire to have sex. When it comes to sexual trauma, no two people are the same in how they respond to sex. Some may experience an increase in sexual desire, some may avoid sex altogether, and others fall somewhere in between.
Many people struggle with body image. If you don’t feel good in your skin or really don’t like something about the way you look, it can be challenging to get naked with your partner and allow them to explore your body in a sexual way. You may have intrusive, negative thoughts about what you look like, whether you’re in a flattering position, what your partner is thinking, etc. These thoughts distract you from being in the moment and experiencing pleasurable sex.
Past Relationships and/or Negative Sexual Experiences.
Sometimes low desire has very little to do with the present (e.g., current life stressors, your relationship with your current partner, etc.), and much more to do with past negative experiences. For example, if you had a particularly unfulfilling or toxic sexual relationship with an ex, you may be bringing some of those old fears, doubts, or concerns into your current relationship.
Most people experience peaks and valleys in desire over the course of their lifetime. Depending on the root cause(s), there are treatment options, lifestyle behaviors, and other techniques that may help you get in touch with your sexual desire. If you suspect that a medical condition is a contributing factor, you may want to speak with your medical provider. If you think unmanaged stress, psychological, or relationship factors may be the cause, and you’re struggling to address this on your own, there’s always the option of meeting with a sex therapist to help you pinpoint what is getting in the way of desire and potential solutions.
To find a certified sex therapist near you, visit aasect.org.