Libido, defined as the desire for sexual activity, varies greatly from person to person and over the span of an individual’s life. Sexual desire is an interplay of drive, beliefs and motivation. Drive can be categorized as the biological component which involves various hormones with a downstream effect. Drive can include sexual thoughts and physical sensations and is directly impacted by stress and overall health. Beliefs around sexuality begin to form during one’s childhood and takes shape during adulthood. Individual experiences and education around sex play a significant role in one’s sexual desire. Any negativity around sexuality stemming from personal beliefs or passed down from one’s immediate community are pivotal in how one views sex, having a direct impact on desire. Motivation has a major underlying emotional component. Especially for women, a healthy emotional connection in a relationship is almost directly correlated with sexual motivation and therefore desire.
Focusing specifically on the biological aspect of sexual desire, the nervous system is responsible for integrating the endocrine system, brain and peripheral organs. The result is an array of cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioural responses. Therefore, a disturbance in a single system leads to dysfunction in one or more phases of the sexual response cycle. There are many variables when it comes to a person’s libido including age, stress, diet and overall health. Some health conditions that directly effect libido include:
- Diabetes – impacts libido due to nerve damage, less blood flow to the genital and vaginal areas, hormonal changes and side effects of medications.
- Heart Disease – many systematic reviews show a high prevalence of sexual dysfunction among men and women with cardiovascular disease. This is mainly due to an issue with circulation and vascular integrity.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea – the link here has been demonstrated by poor sleep quality directly effecting testosterone levels.
- Menopause & Andropause – decreased levels of testosterone and estrogen can contribute to decreased sexual desire. Specifically for women decreases in estrogen levels often correlate with vaginal dryness, hot flashes and night sweats which can directly impact libido. Decreased testosterone in both men and women can also negativity impact libido.
- Psychological and emotional factors that affect a person’s desire for sex include anxiety, depression, fatigue, history of sexual abuse and issues related to self-esteem. The state of a person’s relationship can also result in issues with sexual desire if there are concerns around trust, communication and other conflicting factors. Mental-emotional health is so complex that it often effects drive, beliefs and motivation.
- Lifestyle factors including diet and exercise can also play a huge role in sexual desire as they are directly linked to biology and mood. Stress has been significantly related to decreases in libido not only due to its emotional impact but also the relationship between cortisol (stress hormone) levels and other sex hormones.
Overall, understanding your individual biological needs plays a key role in managing and easing any transition in life. Whether or not that involves changes in libido, aging gracefully and with ease or managing chronic health concerns. There are always options available in terms of testing and management to help you find what is best suited for your health requirements in order to live a vital life.
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- Manolis A, Doumas M. Sexual dysfunction: the ‘prima ballerina’ of hypertension-related quality-of-life complications. Journal of Hypertension. 2008;26:2074–2084.