Changing sex drive: hormonal or psychological?

Siski Green / 13 September 2016

If your sex drive is higher or lower than you expect, you might wonder what the cause is. Here we look at what's behind your fluctuating sex drive.



What's a normal sex drive?

Whether your sex drive is, in your opinion, too high or too low, if you want to try and resolve it, you need to understand what sex drive is. And here’s the bad news: your sex drive isn’t like your vision or your blood pressure, it can’t really be rated in the same way. 

While there is such a thing as 20:20 vision and an ideal range for your blood pressure, there is no equivalent when it comes to sex drive! And that’s because it’s highly personal. Your sex drive might be low with one person, high with another, low then high with the same person and vice versa. There are, however, ways to assess whether there’s something not quite right with your libido.

Find out what you need to know about sex over 60

What’s your ‘normal’?

“If you want to have sex every day, that’s normal,” says sex therapist Dr Ian Kerner. “But it’s also normal if you want to have sex three times a day or per month or per year – my point is that your normal is not the same as average, it’s whatever feels right to you.”

What’s making you worry?

If nothing has changed in your life and yet your ‘normal’ has changed, it could be cause for concern. But first ask yourself why you’re worried. Be honest – are you concerned purely because your libido now doesn’t match your partner’s? Is it causing problems in your relationship? Or are you worried because the change is so dramatic that you feel you might be suffering with some kind of related health issue? “It’s important to figure out why you’re worried, so you can try and look for possible solutions,” says Kerner.

Can't orgasm? Find out how to help it along

Get your facts straight

It’s possible that you feel as though your libido has changed when in fact it’s not that different. “You could try writing a libido diary,” says Kerner. “Make a note of times when you feel aroused so you can assess your situation. You might be surprised to realise that your sexual desire hasn’t change that much, but maybe lifestyle factors – having kids, a new job – are affecting your opportunities for sex.” And talk to your partner. “It could be that your concern is yours alone,” says Kerner. “Your partner may well be happy or content with your change in libido or they may have noticed and would like to address it but didn’t feel comfortable bringing it up.” 

Find out how he or she is feeling about their libido too, you might be surprised by their response. Plus talking it through may help you reach a decision, such as to see a therapist, for example, if needs be.

Rule out physical causes

Medication. Some commonly used medications such as SSRI anti-depressants, finasteride (for hair loss or enlarged prostate) and others can trigger low libido as a side effect. See your GP to find out whether there are alternatives. 

Hormones. For women going through menopause, and for both men and women thyroid problems and simple ageing – can all cause fluctuations in your hormone levels and so affect your libido too.

Tiredness. Lack of sleep means your body is struggling to simply see you through the day, so it’s no longer primed for sex. “There’s this idea that true sexual desire will override fatigue or tiredness, but while that might be true in the initial stages of a sexual relationship, often your body simply craves rest.”

Painful sex. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, so if you’re experiencing it during sex your body will begin to tell you to avoid sex too. “It’s natural for you to feel less desire for something if it causes you pain,” says Kerner. “So this is an issue that really must be addressed by trying to find ways to resolve the problem or working through it with a sex therapist.”

Find out how to enjoy sex with erectile dysfunction

Then assess the possibility of psychological issues

Trust. If you or your partner have had an affair or done something else that affects the trust between you, sexual desire can go into freefall. “Wanting to share your body intimately with your partner is deeply rooted in trusting them,” says Kerner. “So if that trust has been broken, your libido may also suffer.”

Body changes. This is physical and psychological because it’s all about how you feel about your or your partner’s body. If your physique or looks or your partner’s have changed dramatically over time, it could simply be that you’re not physically attracted to their body any more. “While sexual attraction is based on personality and other elements, it is to a large extent about enjoying how someone looks and feels when naked,” says Kerner. “If touching your partner doesn’t turn you on or you don’t like them to touch you because of how you feel about your own body, it can be difficult but not impossible to overcome. I would recommend focusing on the parts of your partner you do find sexy, and similarly with your own body. Finding new ways to enjoy touching and sex can also help.”

Anxiety. While anxiousness or low self-esteem can make some suffer with a lower libido, for other people it can trigger an increase in sex drive. “People who feel ashamed or have low self-esteem sometimes use sex to self-medicate,” says Kerner. “It makes them feel good in the moment, only to make them plunge into the same anxiety or bad feelings once it’s over… leading to them seeking sex once again.”

Anger and/or depression. If you feel frustrated and angry with your partner, you’re hardly going to want to get intimate with him or her. Similarly, when you feel low, sex is probably the last thing on your mind. The only way to address these causes of low libido is to address the anger or depression first. Which means talking it through or seeing a counsellor.

Find out how to increase your libido

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.