Welcome to Let’s Talk About It, the column where we answer questions posed by our readers regarding sex, sexuality, gender and related topics, brought to you by the student-led organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT). This week’s question is: Is low sex drive something that I’m stuck with or something that can be managed?
Low sex drive is a very common and treatable occurrence. According to verywell mind, low sex drive “has many potential causes, including underlying medical issues, emotional, or psychological problems or work- and family-related stress.” It can happen to anyone and can be troubling for an individual or relationship.
However, there is no need to fret! Low sex drive isn’t something that you have to be stuck with forever, and it can definitely be managed with the right tools and awareness.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a low sex drive or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder is defined by “persistent or recurrently deficient sexual or erotic thoughts, fantasies and desire for sexual activity.” The symptoms must last for at least six months and cause distress for the individual throughout this time span. Technically this diagnosis is different for men and women, but for the purpose of this article, I will be sticking with the gender-neutral route. The main difference is that people with penises might experience erectile dysfunction. There are also secondary symptoms, such as lower self-esteem and a general uptick of stress.
However, while this information is important, it is also important to remember that a low sex drive is normal and doesn’t need to be diagnosed in order to be valid. Sexual desires naturally fluctuate, and there is nothing inherently wrong with encountering periodic dry-spells.
As mentioned above, causes for a low sex drive can range from physical to psychological health. I will begin by speaking on the psychological causes, which have shown to be more indicative of low sex drive than physical or hormonal health. According to the DSM-5 and verywell mind, these psychological factors can rely on one’s relationship health, mental health (e.g., stress, depression, anxiety), trauma and/or distress in one’s sexual performance.
If your partner(s) has/have a low sex drive, you might experience a low sex drive as well. If you feel less attracted to your partner, this might also be a predictor for low sex drive. In addition to this, interpersonal or relationship problems can lead to a lower sex drive within the relationship or individual. According to verywell mind, some other relationship-based causes can be a power imbalance in the relationship, infidelity, unresolved relationship conflict and/or resentment.
There are also physical factors that can contribute to a low sex drive. Most commonly, these physical causes are hormonal. According to the DSM-5, hormonal contributions to a low sex drive can stem from lower testosterone or androgen levels; birth control or additional estrogen; hypogonadism; hyperprolactinemia; the intake of SSRIs or SNRIs or other antidepressants; and menopause or pregnancy.
Other physical causes are not necessarily hormone-dependent. According to the DSM-5 and verywell mind, these causes include injury or decrease in blood flow to one’s reproductive organs, chronic health conditions (e.g., multiple sclerosis, diabetes, anemia), chronic pain, blood pressure medications, painful sex, bowel/digestive issues and heart issues (e.g., coronary disease). Other physical causes can be one’s general physical response to stress, fatigue and/or nicotine or alcohol intake.
Low sex drive is manageable, not a life sentence. Once you’re able to figure out the cause, treatment will most likely be easy to obtain. According to verywell mind, there are pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical options. Pharmaceutical options include testosterone replacements (creams, pills or patches), estrogen patches or pills and lubricants. There are also options such as an O-Shot and premenopausal and postmenopausal interventions (estrogen therapy). While these are valuable treatments, it is important to consult a medical professional to figure out dosage and management of these therapies.
According to verwell mind, non-pharmaceutical options include stress reduction, behavioral therapy, cognitive-affective-behavioral therapy, exercise, relationship or individual counseling and general improvement in one’s individual and interpersonal health. While therapy can help, it’s also expensive and inaccessible for most university students. Therapy is not necessary, but it’s essential to work with your partner(s) as a team when confronted with the issue of a low sex drive. If you are single and dealing with low sex drive, it is essential to be honest and communicative with yourself. Treatments that are not reliant on therapy are more so rooted in lifestyle changes. These changes include utilizing mindfulness, decreasing bad habits, setting aside time for physical and emotional intimacy, and safe and consensual experimentation.
I hope this gives some insight on low sex drive, and how it can be managed. While the lack of sexual desire is frustrating and stressful, it is a very normal and treatable condition. If you are experiencing mental health problems that are affecting your sexual health or overall well-being, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your local community, university or crisis resources. Stay safe, get consent and have fun!
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