It affects an estimated 1 in 10 women.
Women’s libidos are a surprisingly frequent topic of debate, but it usually centers around *problems* with their libidos: Maybe it’s absent, or it’s “too much.” The truth is, libidos for all genders fall across a spectrum, from nonexistent to insatiable.
Having a low libido is often talked about as a problem, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some people are unfazed by their lower libidos, and others identify as asexual—meaning they don’t experience sexual attraction, and that’s fine.
So when is low libido a problem? When is it a disorder?
An estimated one in 10 women have something called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), according to the American Sexual Health Association. That means you’re not experiencing sexual thoughts or desires, and—most importantly—it’s causing you distress.
People with HSDD might experience stress or anxiety about their low libido, or they might experience relationship trouble surrounding their lack of desire. These might be people who want to feel sexual desire, but aren’t, for one reason or another.
HSDD is often a byproduct of other conditions or factors. For example, low libido is a common side effect of certain antidepressants, as well as medications for pain or high blood pressure. Depression itself can affect libdo, as can diabetes, thyroid problems, and breast cancer.
Of course, HSDD can also affect those who are experiencing conflict in their relationship, such as a loss of trust—although you don’t have to be in a relationship to experience HSDD.
Understanding that HSDD is “a thing” is important, since many women don’t realize it’s treatable. A doctor may diagnose you using a Decreased Sexual Desire Screener, which uses a few questions to evaluate how you perceive your libido: how it’s changed, how it’s affecting you, and what you want from it.
Like it is for other mental health conditions, treatment for HSDD can be complex and multifaceted. There are two FDA-approved medications available specifically for HSDD. One is available as a daily pill, and the other as an injectable to take on an as-needed basis.
That said, most doctors recommend trying other therapies first, most of which aim to treat the underlying issue causing the unwanted low libido. For example, couples therapy or sex therapy can help if the problem is relationship conflict, self-esteem issues, or other psychological roadblocks. Standard psychotherapy can also help, especially if depression or anxiety is at the root of the problem. Sometimes, even lifestyle changes can improve your libido, and a doctor can help you identify what’s going wrong.
If medications like antidepressants are the problem, a doctor could potentially adjust your dose to reduce side effects, or switch you to a different medication that may not have the same effect on libido.
Regardless, the most important thing you can do if your low libido is having a negative effect on your life is to start the conversation with your doctor. This *is* something that your doctor can help you with, and it *is* something that can improve.
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Research Triangle Park, NC: American Sexual Health Association. (Accessed on January 14, 2020 at http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/hypoactive-sexual-desire-disorder/.)
Parish SJ, Han SR. Hypoactive sexual desire disorder: a review of epidemiology, biopsychology, diagnosis, and treatment. Sex Med Rev. 2016 Apr;4(2):103-20.
Vyleesi? Addyi? How women can get help for low sexual desire. Chicago, IL: UChicagoMedicine, 2019. (Accessed on January 14, 2020 at https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/womens-health-articles/vyleesi-addyi-how-women-can-get-help-for-low-sexual-desire.)