Your libido, otherwise known as your sex-drive or desire, forms an important part of your health and wellbeing. Your levels of libido will change throughout your life. There's no right or wrong level – only what's right for you.
If you're experiencing low libido and it's troubling you, there are a number of things you can do to increase it. We speak to three Jean Hailes health experts: a hormone specialist (endocrinologist), a naturopath and a psychologist, bringing you their tips to help boost your sex-drive and bring some bliss back to your bedroom!
Dr Sonia Davison is one of Jean Hailes' hormone specialists and assures you that if you’re experiencing low libido, you're not alone. "Low libido is one of the most common sexual issues for women," she explains.
Dr Davison says that the first step in increasing your libido is working out why your libido might be lower than usual. "Many factors can impact libido in women," she says. "Certain medications, menopause, depression, stress, thyroid problems, low iron levels, vaginal dryness – even being married! – can all affect your sex-drive."
It can be helpful to ask yourself: what about your current situation could be behind the change in libido. From Dr Davison's point of view, the solution to a lowered libido often lies in not necessarily treating the hormones or boosting the sex-drive itself, but in addressing or adjusting the many factors that affect your hormones and sex-drive.
Dr Davison advises, "Women who are distressed by low libido should seek medical advice from someone with expertise and experience in women's health, and this typically will be your GP or hormone specialist." The management and treatment will depend on the problem and sometimes additional tests may be required such as checking your thyroid or iron levels.
"Treatment may be as simple as a topical oestrogen for vaginal dryness if this causing the issue, or more involved, such as relationship or sexual counselling." Dr Davison adds, "Some women may benefit from hormonal treatment but this is not required for everyone."
When treating someone for low libido, Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella often assesses their overall health before delving specifically into their sexual health. "Your libido levels are connected to your physical, mental and emotional health," she says. "It's difficult to feel a desire for sex when you're exhausted, depressed or unwell."
Management of low libido, from the naturopath's perspective, isn't simply a matter of prescribing a herbal aphrodisiac (a substance that stimulates sexual desire). Research points out that depression, sleep issues and night sweats often occur alongside low libido in perimenopausal women. So, if appropriate, Ms Villella might address these issues first, rather than prescribing a treatment to stimulate desire.
Ms Villella says, "Most herbal medicines that are 'aphrodisiac' actually treat your overall health, working to improve your physical and mental wellbeing rather than specifically increasing your sexual urge."
She warns women to be very wary of internet claims and the promise of a natural or herbal 'cure' for lowered libido. "Women should source their information about natural therapies from an accredited naturopath or herbalist."
Natural therapies and dietary changes can be effective in treating some causes of low libido. If vaginal dryness is the issue, for example, research suggests eating two dessertspoons of linseeds daily can 'plump up' the cells of the vagina and improve vaginal lubrication. Download Ms Villella's recipe for linseed, banana and date muffins to get your daily dose of linseeds.
Ms Villella highlights the importance of a healthy diet not only for general health and wellbeing but for increased sexual health as well. "Why not get into the mood by eating the healthy foods reputed to be aphrodisiac? These kinds of foods bring sex to the forefront of your mind and can help to keep it on the agenda,” she says. "Enjoy strawberries, honey, fresh figs, pomegranate, chocolate and, of course, oysters!"
"If you have low libido, and provided you are in a good relationship and usually enjoy sex, it's okay to plan for intimacy because sometimes if you wait, you may never feel the desire." Dr Deeks explains that some women may find that if they start the process of sex, even though they didn’t feel like it in the beginning, their libido often kicks in once they get going – this is providing there is never any pain or distress with sex.
Not only can your libido affect your relationship, but your relationship can also affect your libido. Dr Deeks suggests to look to recent conflict with your partner if your libido has suddenly decreased. "If you’re angry or put off by something your partner does, has done or is planning to do, you may not have intimacy on your mind and this can be a big libido-downer. Sex therapist Dr Rosie King says the best tip she could give women was to hand their partner a pair of rubber gloves – if they did the dishes more or things around the house, libido goes up!"
Dr Deeks often explains to women and couples troubled by low libido that we all have different ways of communicating love. "Some people like to touch and some don't, some people feel appreciated if their partner does things for them, and some people feel love if they are given gifts."
Dr Deeks encourages women with low libido to think about the way you communicate and the way your partner communicates. "If your libido is a bit low it can be helpful to talk about what makes you feel loved. When you feel loved and valued, you’re more likely to want to be intimate – it may not immediately spark libido but it helps with feelings of intimacy as well as the physical acts that go with it."
Find more information, resources and helpful tips on sex, sexuality and libido on the Jean Hailes website.