| Libido killers
Is your sex drive stuck in neutral?
Rhea Seymour finds out why
After a night out with your current squeeze, you can’t wait to get home, tear off your clothes, jump into bed and…curl up with the latest Sophie Kinsella bestseller. Sound familiar? You’re young, feel good about your bod and think he might even be “the One,” so why do you feel zero desire to jump between the sheets?
If sex with Mr. Right Now holds less appeal than a night on the couch watching Heroes in your pj’s, you may be having doubts about whether you’re even attracted to him. And when a woman’s libido takes a nosedive in a more committed, long-term dating scenario, relationship problems are a common cause. Let’s face it: if he has an ugly jealous streak or you suspect he’s cheating, your lack of desire is understandable. But, those issues aside, it’s important to note that physical factors—from the type of birth control you use to your dietary choices—may be to blame if it feels like your libido has left the building.
“Lots of women on the birth control pill complain of a lower sex drive,” says gynecologist Dr. Christine Derzko, also an author on sexual dysfunction and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto. “The estrogen in the pill increases the amount of binding globulins in the blood, which mop up the free testosterone that’s floating around. When you don’t have as much testosterone, you may not have as much sex drive. Testosterone is not the major factor in libido changes, however. Our biggest and most important sex organ is our brain.”
Some birth control pills, such as Yasmin, are more likely to hamper your libido. “It’s a fabulous pill,” says Dr. Derzko. “It’s very good for acne and preventing PMS, but it’s less good for libido than other pills. Most women who take oral contraceptives, including Yasmin, have absolutely no problems with libido, though. Libido is a very complex emotion and feeling, and it cannot simply be equated to hormones or oral contraceptives.”
Even without being on the pill, though, your hormone levels rise and fall during your menstrual cycle, which can make you feel like just cuddling one week and in heat the next. Research shows that women tend to feel lustier, flirtier, fantasize more about sex and initiate sex more during ovulation, when estrogen levels peak (it’s not all about testosterone) and women are at their most fertile, explains Jim Pfaus, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Concordia University in Montreal. So if you ovulate on Day 14, you may notice you feel particularly randy 2–3 days beforehand and for a few days afterward, until estrogen levels start to fall.
Women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome may find that treatment for their condition also cools their sex drive. “These women have a lot of extra androgen, which causes acne and abnormal hair growth,” explains Dr. Derzko. “When you lower the androgen with medication, such as Diane-35, it certainly improves their acne and regulates their period, but they may or may not end up with a lower libido.”
Problems with the thyroid gland can take a toll on your desire for sex as well. Hypothyroidism stimulates the production of prolactin, a hormone that interferes with sex hormones, possibly lowering testosterone. The same thing occurs after childbirth: a surge in prolactin levels occurs to trigger milk production, but it also helps make sex about as appealing as a root canal to most new mothers.
Some types of antidepressants (SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) also increase prolactin—and can affect the feel-good hormone serotonin, which may play a role in sexual function. That may be why some people who take those medications feel their sex drives have dulled. Fortunately, there are options if you’re taking those meds. “Wellbutrin is better than other medications,” says Dr. Derzko. “It’s the one people get switched to when they have a low libido on antidepressants.”
For women who simply feel too damn tired to have sex most of the time, the solution may be as simple as cutting back on late nights at the office or turning in before The Colbert Report. If more sleep doesn’t seem to give you energy for sex, you could have anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells, which leads to unusual fatigue. If you smoke, have heavy periods or don’t eat red meat, you’re more likely to be iron-deficient, which can lead to anemia. Talk to your doctor to find out whether you need iron supplements.