Updated: Apr 20, 2020
If we’re going to talk about health, we cannot ignore sexual health. Women tend to shy away from discussing their sexual health and in turn, no one is worrying about it.
When I set out to write this blog, I plugged libido into my go-to medical databases and research search engines and was incredibly disappointed. It was all male libido and testosterone or medication induced decreases in libido.
I mentioned this to a friend and they said well when men’s libidos drop we notice (no pun intended) whereas for women, we don’t need the drive to participate in sex. This is absolute crap.
So let’s have an informed discussion on the female libido to improve your sexual health and ultimately your overall health and well-being.
Menstrual Cycles & Sex Drive
The physiologic driving factor for both men and women is our hormones. In women, our hormones are a bit more complex because they cycle throughout the month.
In the follicular phase of our cycles (from menses to ovulation), we see steady rises in FSH, LH, and most importantly estrogen. Our sex drive is going to be highest in this window as our bodies want to promote the chances of us getting pregnant.
Think of estrogen as what testosterone is to men. Estrogen gives us our sexual characteristics and in turn supports our sex drive.
Post-ovulation, in our luteal phase, we start to see estrogen dip and progesterone starts to rise. Progesterone is not as big of a sex driver as estrogen and we end up having naturally lower libido in the second half of our cycle.
This second half dip should not be enough to put a stop in your sex drive and this is where psychological sex influences come into play.
Estrogen & Sex Drive
Estrogen is our primary sex driving hormone so naturally low levels of estrogen will come with lower libido (more on this later this month!) The opposite is true as well. High estrogen or estrogen dominance is also going to come along with lowered libido.
Estrogen dominance can come with the following symptoms:
Irregular periods and PMS (these are NOT normal!)
Endometriosis, PCOS, and fibroids (all caused by estrogen dominance)
Bloating and gas
Alternating constipation and diarrhea
Mood swings, anxiety, and depression
Regulating your cycle and reducing PMS symptoms can be the first step to regaining your libido.
Hyper and hypothyroidism also play a huge role in your estrogen metabolism and in turn can have major impacts on your libido.
Medications & Sex Drive
There are several medications that may interfere with your sex drive and I advocate that you always ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects associated with anything you take regularly (this include natural healthcare products).
There are two common culprits that I will point out.
1. The birth control pill
An ironic side-effect of a medication that prevents pregnancy is low libido. This is because the pill high-jacks your menstrual cycle and shuts off your natural estrogen. Low estrogen = low libido. This is where psychologic influences of libido need to come into play.
2. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication
While mood disorders on their own may come along with dampened libido, the medications used to treat these conditions can also have an impact. SSRIs (common drugs used for anxiety and depression) cause decreases in levels of serotonin receptors even though they increase your total serotonin levels. This may be one of the reasons they are killing your sex drive, though we don’t fully understand this relationship.
Again, we must look to our psychological sex drive contributors.
Mood, Stress, & Sex
Your brain controls everything and your thoughts affect how your body behaves. If you are feeling anxious or low, the last thing on your mind will be sex.
Stress plays a similar role. If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it will be hard to focus on having sex. Plus stress also wreaks havoc on your hormone levels. \
Other emotional factors that come into play are self-confidence and comfort. There is also a stigma associated with libido in women and it is generally less accepted for women to embrace their sexuality. That is a whole other topic we can get into, so I will leave it at is it just as “normal” and HEALTHY for women to desire and have sex, as it is for men.
All of these psychological factors put your body into a sympathetic state or fight-or-flight state. During this state your body shuts off all non-essential functions. Sex falls into this category and results in decreased vaginal lubrication and an increased threshold for organism (meaning you are less likely to organism).
Boosting Sex Drive – Sex Hygiene
Have you heard of sleep hygiene? This is a practice of creating a routine that promotes relaxation and prepares the body for sleep. The same should be done with sex.
The first step is simply to think about having sex. Go through the steps in your head and picture a scenario that is appealing to you. Thinking about sex actually triggers the production of your reproductive hormones ultimately giving your libido a physical boost.
For those with partners, increasing intimacy is crucial for promoting libido. Being close to your partner, holding hands, and kissing all release oxytocin and dopamine in the brain. Both of these promote sensations of closeness with your partner and trigger reward centers in your brain. This makes you crave more intimacy.
Foreplay is also a critical component of sex hygiene. Foreplay triggers the brain to prepare the body for sex. This means increased vaginal lubrication and increased blood flow to your pelvic region, both of which will increase pleasure and the likelihood of organism. Having an organism is also going to release oxytocin and dopamine in your brain, increasing the chances that you want to have sex again.
8 Tips for Boosting Libido
1. Increase your time with your partner
Boosting your intimacy will in turn boost your desire for sex! Set time specifically to be with your partner.
2. Get moving
Engaging in physical activity is great for your health overall. When you exercise, your body releases feel-good endorphins. This boosts your self-esteem and also triggers reward centers in your brain. This makes you more likely to want to continue to engage in physical activity, including sex.
3. Take some time to relax
Stress is a libido killer. Taking time to relax will lower cortisol and increase your sex drive. Do what makes you happy – take a bath, spend time reading a book, watch your favorite show, meditate. Anything that promotes a sense of calm
4. Consider an adaptogen
Adaptogens are amongst my favorite types of herbs. They help your adrenal glands manage stress and cortisol so they reduce the negative effects associated with stress.
Some great female geared options are Ashwaganda, Angelica sinensis, and Maca. These have the bonus action of regulating your sex hormones.
As always, check in with your naturopath to find out which is the best fit for you.
5. Add some flax and pumpkin seeds into your diet
Both of these help regulate your sex hormones and ultimately boost libido.
6. Think sex
Thinking about sex will actually trigger the release of your sex hormones. This increases your libido and helps prepare your body for sex which will make the experience more enjoyable.
Masturbation is another way to help rewire your body to want more sex. This can be a great way to get to know your body and your desires without the pressure of including a partner. You will always again trigger reward pathways in your brain which increases your desire for future sexual activity.
7. Be mindful of tobacco and alcohol consumption
While alcohol can lower your inhibitions which may increase your libido, it lowers your sexual function and makes it more difficult to achieve organism.
8. Take to your health care provider
This is always a great place to start. Your health care provider can help rule out underlying causes of low libido (ex. irregular cycles, thyroid dysfunction, endometriosis, mood disorders) and provide the most appropriate support.