Low libido is a decrease in sex drive that can interfere with sexual activity. While it can cause tension in a relationship, fostering doubt and guilt in both partners, it can often be treated if the underlying cause is identified.
Both men and women can develop a low libido. Low libido should not be confused with erectile dysfunction (ED), although the two conditions can co-exist in men. ED occurs when a man can’t have or maintain an erection.
Communication and honesty are needed for a couple to cope while identifying the possible causes. Treatments can vary and may involve psychotherapy, hormone replacement, lifestyle changes, or the adjustment of medications.
Low libido can sometimes be caused by a single factor but is more often related to multiple factors that each contribute in their own way. Among some of the more common causes are low testosterone, medications, depression, chronic illness, and stress.
- Here are a few potential causes of low libido in men:
Testosterone is an important male hormone. In men, it’s mostly produced in the testicles. Testosterone is responsible for building muscles and bone mass, and for stimulating sperm production. Your testosterone levels also factor into your sex drive.
Normal testosterone levels will vary. However, when your testosterone levels decrease, your desire for sex also decreases. Decreasing testosterone is a normal part of aging. However, a drastic drop in testosterone can lead to decreased libido.
Taking certain medications can lower testosterone levels, which in turn may lead to low libido. For example, blood pressure medications may prevent ejaculation and erections.
Other medications that can lower testosterone levels include chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer, hormones used to treat prostate cancer,
corticosteroids, and opioid pain relievers, amoung others.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is the uncontrollable urge to move your legs. A study found that men with RLS are at higher risk for developing erectile dysfunction (ED) than those without RLS.
In the study, researchers discovered that men who had RLS occurrences at least five times per month were about 50 percent more likely to develop ED than men without RLS. Also, men who had RLS episodes more frequently were even more likely to become impotent.
Depression changes all parts of a person’s life, and people with depression experience a reduced or complete lack of interest in activities they once found pleasurable, including sex. Low libido is unfortunately also a side effect of some antidepressants.
When you’re not feeling well due to the effects of a chronic health condition, such as chronic pain, sex is likely low on your list of priorities. Certain illnesses, such as cancer, can reduce your sperm production counts as well.
Other chronic illnesses that can take a toll on your libido include:
- type 2 diabetes
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- chronic lung, heart, kidney, and liver failure
If you’re experiencing a chronic illness, talk with your partner about ways to be intimate during this time.
Adequate sleep is defined as between 6 and 8 hours a night on a regular basis, and is crucial for optimum physiological and mental health. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that non-obese men with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) experience lower testosterone levels. In turn, this leads to decreased sexual activity and libido.
In another recent study in young, healthy men, testosterone levels were decreased by 10 to 15 percent after a week of sleep restriction to five hours per night.
The researchers found that the effects of restricting sleep on testosterone levels were especially evident between 2:00 pm and 10:00 pm the next day.
Testosterone levels, which are linked to libido, are at their highest when men are in their late teens. In your older years, it may take longer to have orgasms, ejaculate, and become aroused. Your erections may not be as hard, and it may take longer for your penis to become erect. However, medications are available that can help treat these issues.
If you’re distracted by situations or periods of high pressure, sexual desire may decrease. This is because stress can disrupt your hormone levels. Your arteries can narrow in times of stress. This narrowing restricts blood flow and potentially causes ED.
Stress is hard to avoid. Relationship problems, divorce, facing the death of a loved one, financial worries, a new baby, or a busy work environment are just some of the life events that can greatly affect the desire for sex. Stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditation, and talking to a therapist, may help.
If you feel that you’re unattractive, or undesirable, it’ll likely put a damper on sexual encounters. Not liking what you see in the mirror can even make you want to avoid having sex altogether.
Low self-esteem may also cause anxiety about sexual performance, which can lead to issues with ED and reduced sexual desire. Over time, self-esteem issues can result in larger mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and drug or alcohol abuse — all of which have been linked to low libido.
Too little (or too much) exercise
Too little or too much exercise can also be responsible for low sex drive in men.
Too little exercise (or none at all) can lead to a range of health problems that can affect sexual desire and arousal.
Getting regular exercise may reduce your risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are associated with low libido. Moderate exercise is known to lower cortisol levels at night and reduce stress, which can help increase sex drive.
On the other hand, over-exercising has also been shown to affect sexual health. In one study, higher levels of chronic intense and lengthy endurance training on a regular basis were strongly associated with decreased libido scores in men.
Heavy alcohol drinking, or more than 14 mixed drinks in a week, has also been linked to a decrease in testosterone production. Over a long period of time, excessive amounts of alcohol can reduce your sex drive. Recent studies suggest that an average adult male should have two or fewer alcoholic beverages daily; any more than this can lead to long-term health deterioration.
In addition to alcohol, the use of tobacco, marijuana, and illicit drugs such as opiates has also been connected to a decrease in testosterone production. This can result in a lack of sexual desire.
Smoking has also been found to have a negative impact on sperm production and sperm movement.
- Physical and emotional side effects of low libido
A decreased sex drive can be very unsettling for men. Low libido can lead to a vicious cycle of physical and emotional side effects, including ED — the inability to maintain an erection long enough to have satisfactory sex.
ED may cause a man to experience anxiety around sex. This can lead to tension and conflicts between him and his partner, which may in turn lead to fewer sexual encounters and more relationship issues.
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