70% Of Women Have Low Libido — So Why Are We Still Ashamed?

“It’s hard to feel like I’m normal.”

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“I feel like something is wrong with me.” “I feel like such a bad partner and like I’m a different person.” “I feel like I lost a part of myself.”
Women’s low libido is rarely spoken about. In fact, in an increasingly sex-positive world, it sometimes feels like one of the last remaining taboos. Having a low sex drive isn’t really seen as what it is: a reduction in a person’s interest in sex. Rather, it tends to be seen as a moral failing, a relationship fault; something to ‘cure’.
The quotes given above were from Australian women who are currently experiencing a low sex drive. Instead of seeing low libido as something that’s affected by medical, sociocultural, psychological, relational, political and economic factors, it’s something that many people take as personal responsibility.  
Perhaps heightening this is our tendency to relegate low libido to punchlines, associating it predominately with ageing men depending on Viagra, or wives whinging about headaches and tiredness to ‘get out’ of sex.
In reality, new global research conducted by Headspace App and Peanut has found that seven in 10 women have experienced low sex drive. There’s no unequivocal ‘cause’ for this either. Vaginal dryness, painful sex and alcohol can affect libido, as can health conditions like endometriosis, depression and cancer. Stress, fatigue, body image and relationship issues can also contribute to a decrease in libido.
“Maybe there’s a medical condition, anti-depressants or contraception impacting your sexual function,” sex therapist Aleks Trkulja tells Refinery29 Australia. “Maybe it’s the sociocultural beliefs about sexuality (sexual orientation, stigma, slut-shaming), maybe it’s a psychological experience of anxiety, maybe you don’t feel safe or connected to the person you want to be sexual with. Maybe the government has politicised your sexual expression (i.e no access to abortion) which influences what risks you’re willing to take.”
Penelope* points to poor mental health and being on antidepressants as the biggest factors that affected her libido. “I just had no desire to do anything ever. I was forcing myself to have sex to remain ‘normal’,” she tells Refinery29 Australia.
For Sabrina, 23 and Anne, also 23, being on birth control drastically changed their sex drives. 
“I have had low libido for a while now, but particularly since I went on birth control (ironic right? The thing that lets me have safe sex stops me from wanting to have sex),” Sabrina shares. “It has made me feel frustrated because I want to feel connected to my partner but at the same time I don't want to. I also used to love smutty books but I'm not interested anymore, which is sad.”

“If you have a partner that's making you feel bad about having a low libido, they're probably not the one.”

Sabrina, 23
"I used to [have] a pretty high libido but when I started dating my partner, I decided to get on birth control and it essentially gave me no libido whatsoever,” Anne says. After putting two and two together, she decided to switch to a different contraceptive pill which didn’t lower her libido as much.  
“[My partner] said he was happy to do whatever I wanted to do and throughout the whole thing, there was never any pressure on his end, nor did he make me feel like a bad partner at all,” she adds. “If you have a partner that's making you feel bad about having a low libido, they're probably not the one.”
Sabrina shares that her journey with low libido has been really hard. “[My partner and I] considered entering an open relationship so that [he] could still scratch that physical itch without pressuring me and making me feel bad. We've been focusing on foreplay and working out how to get me interested and excited to be sexual and it works sometimes but it's definitely still a work in progress.”
Australia’s national health advice service, Healthdirect, supports these methods. Exploring arousal methods like caressing each other’s bodies, taking baths together, giving massages and undressing each other may help.
As a teenager, Julia, 25, says that she was sexually curious and had a high libido. But when she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), she was put on a contraceptive pill to help with her hormone imbalance and to reduce her other symptoms.
“I’ve had low libido ever since I started on the pill when I was 18. Going off it to see if my libido increases doesn’t seem like an option to me as it is what I’ve been prescribed for my medical condition,” she tells Refinery29 Australia. Julia shares that this has been an “issue” in the serious relationships she’s been in with men, especially as she’s comfortable going weeks without sex. 
Finding ways to encourage arousal or stimulate foreplay doesn’t always go to plan, either. “We went to a sex shop to look around. Everything was so expensive so we ended up only buying lube and a packet of batteries for a toy I already own. However, the batteries were the wrong size and the lube was ‘cooling’ which felt so awful to me, I ended up not being able to continue having sex in that instance,” she says.
According to Trkulja, it’s completely natural to experience fluctuations in desire and libido, especially if there is an external factor like medication influencing your body.

“It’s hard to feel like I’m normal. I haven’t told any of my friends and just try not to think about it really because it makes me feel like less of a person in a way which really sucks.”

Ellie, 21
After a vaginal infection, Arya says her sex drive started to drastically decrease. “I don't think about [my libido] much, but when I do, I feel sucky because I used to be sexually active and now I keep declining my partner… we haven't really worked through it together. I haven't even mentioned this to anyone except here,” she admits.
For Ellie, 21, her low libido is a source of shame since she regularly compares her sex habits to others. “I feel like something is wrong with me because I hear all my friends and people on social media talking about having sex every week or more often and I just don’t even think about doing it more than once a month,” she tells Refinery29 Australia
“It’s hard to feel like I’m normal. I haven’t told any of my friends and just try not to think about it really because it makes me feel like less of a person in a way which really sucks.”
Half of the respondents of Headspace app and Peanut’s study reported believing that low sex drive is a taboo topic. Potentially adding to this is the finding that 50% of Australian Gen Z and Millennial women report sexually related feelings of distress like embarrassment, unhappiness, guilt and stress.
This is a far-reaching issue, so why aren’t we doing more to address it? The study found that 9 in 10 women think the medical industry doesn’t take women’s sexual desires seriously — a pattern that’s unfortunately not limited just to women’s sexual health
Trkulja recommends taking the pressure off having to have sex all the time. “If you’re stressed, or unwell, it’s not realistic to expect yourself to be a liberated sexual goddess. Compassion toward your body is the best thing you can do. And your partner can get on board by not placing pressure on your sexual function. It can also be a great opportunity for connection in other ways.”
Mila, 26, has low libido but knows that her relationship can thrive despite it. While her and her fiancé have sex approximately four to eight times a year, the pair find other outlets for intimacy. 
“Don’t compare yourself to other couples,” Mila shares. “We cuddle constantly and that’s enough for me. We don’t need the frequency of sex to validate the strength of our relationship."
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