At least seven in 10 women around the world say that they have low libido. That's the vast majority of us having a low sex drive at some point, but the language that surrounds this fact paints it as taboo. We know it, but we keep it to ourselves, furiously Googling “is there something wrong with me?”
The search results tend to fixate on symptoms, causes and quick-fix cures. But whether your sex drive is high or low, there is no ‘correct’ diagnosis, even if societal expectations and mismatched libidos make it seem as though there is. So should you tune into your natural libido, or try to change it?
"Unless you are satisfied with your libido, I think it is definitely healthy to want to change it. Wanting to increase (or decrease) your libido should not be seen as a negative thing, as it shows that you are in touch with your sexuality and awareness of your circumstance at any given time,” Psycho-sexologist Chantelle Otten tells Refinery29.
Sex-positive therapist Aleks Trkulja also reminds us that libido is influenced by numerous factors: “emotional, mental, physical, relational wellbeing, as well as socio-cultural influences,” to name a few. “You can't consciously 'change' it, but [you can] review influences that either help or hinder it,” she says, pointing to antidepressants, chronic illness, relationship stress, and unhelpful beliefs about sex and sexuality.
It’s no surprise that stress is a major factor that impacts libido. When you’re all up in your head, it can be hard to focus on pleasure down there.
“The best thing you can do for your libido is to manage your stress. Address external stressors (work, relationships, kids) and internal stressors (self-criticism, body image concerns, rumination) to improve your libido. These stressors act as barriers otherwise,” Trkulja says.
That can be easier said than done, of course. It can be difficult to shut out stressors or the internal noise that can take the upper hand in the bedroom. It’s not something that many of us are equipped to deal with alone, so seeking out mental health support in the form of psychologists and sex therapists can help us process and move through these hurdles.
For those wanting tangible advice on how to increase their sex drive, Otten suggests getting attuned to what turns you on and what turns you off. “It can be anything — sex positions, humour, certain smells or even temperature. Then, determine ways to foster your turn-ons and minimise turn-offs,” she says.
“Communication is lubrication — talking about sex, while often awkward, is imperative for understanding each other’s turn-ons and offs."
Throughout the day, she recommends consciously thinking about your turn-ons. “[This] helps to slowly build arousal, so that when it’s time for sex, you are already turned on!”.
When it comes to solo sex, your libido is the only one that matters. There’s nothing that’s too low or too high when you’re the one setting the tone and pace. In a relationship, however, you’re caught in a balancing act of appeasing two unique libidos.
“Communication is lubrication — talking about sex, while often awkward, is imperative for understanding each other’s turn-ons and offs,” Otten adds.
Patience, respect, and kindness are what Trkulja stresses as important in a relationship that’s navigating the ebbs and flows of sex. “Mistmatched libidos are incredibly common. We're not supposed to be hornbags our entire lives, so having some patience and grace around the fact that our sexual function fluctuates throughout our lifetime can help to take the pressure off. Stop comparing your sex life to others, and focus instead on intimacy and connection.”
Both Trkulja and Otten are adamant that cultivating intimacy in ways other than sex is endlessly beneficial to a couple’s relationship. “Placing a focus on intimacy more broadly can help to redefine what sex looks like in your relationship. Sometimes, engaging in moments of intimacy (such as a foot rub on the couch) can increase libido overall in the long run,” says Otten.
Sex and connection should be pleasurable and fun, not a source of shame and inadequacy. When we come to accept the fact that our libido is something that will continue to change with us throughout our lives, we can start to treat it with the patience and compassion it deserves.