When Desire Dies: Bringing Your Sex Drive Back to Life
WebMD asked top sex experts to explain what happened to your libido and what you can do to get lovemaking back on track.
By Colette Bouchez
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
"I used to enjoy making love with my husband but now it's something I do just to get him off my case. I can't figure out where my sex drive went or how to get it back. "
"Once my partner and I 'get started,' I really enjoy our sex life. The problem is I just don't ever want to get started."
"I always thought my husband and I would be making love until we were 90. But I just turned 39 and my libido is nowhere to be found."
If these sexual issues sound familiar, you're clearly not alone. Experts say that a lack of interest in making love -- even with partners we adore in many other ways -- is not as unusual as we might think.
"A disappearing sex drive is a common problem -- sometimes in women as young as her 30's -- and while it hasn't reached epidemic proportions yet, I think we're only seeing a small portion of the women who are affected," says Rebecca Amaru, MD, a gynecologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Indeed, in one global study of sexual problems published recently in the Journal of Impotence Research, up to 43% of women expressed a loss of sexual desire, beginning as young as age 40. Similarly, up to 36% of women who were having sex reported they weren't enjoying it.
Understanding Your Sex Drive - Or Lack of It
For some women, low sex drive or even the inability to have sex is linked to specific problems. According to renowned sex therapist NYU professor Virginia Sadock, MD, this can include illness, medications, or sometimes even a specific physical problem related to intercourse.
"It can also be the result of hormonal changes that begin in the 40's. A lack of lubrication, for example, makes sex less comfortable and over time that can dampen desire," says Christiane Northrup, MD, author of The Wisdom of Menopause (Hay House).
When low sex drive is health-related, experts say, the solution is easy.
"For some women all it takes is a little dab of either lubricant or estrogen cream on the clitoral area. You can't believe how many women suffer, not realizing how easy this problem is to solve," says Northrup.
But while for some women the answer might be as close as that tube on the nightstand, Sadock says, for many others the lack of libido is intimately linked to the complex emotional algorithm that makes up a woman's sex drive.
"If a woman is upset, confused, tired, if she is feeling overworked and under appreciated, even if she is not consciously aware of some problems within her relationship, I can promise you that a tube of lubricant is not going to be enough to make her feel like having sex," says Sadock.
Case in point, the Journal of Impotence Research study found that relationship problems were frequently at the heart of many women's low sex drive.
Moreover, Sadock says other studies found that even when a woman's body is turned on, she won't recognize it if she's not emotionally open to making love.
"In one study conducted in the Netherlands doctors found that even when measurements of vaginal lubrication confirmed sexual excitement, a woman didn't perceive desire if she was not in touch with the idea of being turned on," says Sadock.
This, she says, can also occur when self-esteem is low.
"When you don't feel good about yourself, if you view yourself as undesirable, then you'll push desire out of your mind as well," says Sadock.
Finding Your Sex Drive Again
So how do you coax your sex drive out of hiding?
For women who need a little encouragement that intimacy is still within their grasp, Sadock recommends giving fantasy a try.
"Put your partner out of your mind and focus strictly on sex," says Sadock. Imagine, if you will, having the most wonderful, delicious, glorious romp with anyone you desire -- a movie star, an old flame, a mysterious stranger -- and then see how you feel.
"Even if you don't get overwhelmingly excited, if you can at least feel a sense of openness about sexual excitement, then there is little doubt that your desire is still intact," says Sadock.
Ramp Up Low Sex Drive by Resolving Issues