Low sex drive? Here’s what’s really behind your, “honey, I have a headache.”
No matter how much you love your partner, sometimes the thought of sex can sound just, well … exhausting. Especially after a 12-hour day at work. Or after you’ve been up all night with your six-month-old baby. Or if you’ve got a million and three items on your To-Do list, and sex wasn’t one of them.
It’s totally, completely, 1,000% normal to not be in the mood for sex from time to time. Low sex drive in women is actually common—it affects about one-third of adult women in America.
However, if you don’t get to the root of the problem and your low libido goes untreated, it could affect your relationship, your health, and your happiness. (Plus, there are only so many times you can blame your lack of desire on a headache.)
We asked Jennifer Wu, MD, an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital what causes low sex drive and what women can do about it.
“I have many patients that come to me concerned about their lack of libido [and] lack of desire for sexual activity,” says Dr. Wu. Lack of sexual desire can affect all women at any age, she says.
Causes of Low Sex Drive in Women
You’re nervous. “I see it very often in young patients who are just starting to have sex and still find it very uncomfortable. They may have a problem with lubrication, and they may not be so comfortable with their partner to be able to tell them what their desires and dislikes are,” says Dr. Wu.
You just had a baby. “We often see [low libido] in women who’ve just had babies. They’re really tired, they’re breastfeeding, they’re up all night with the baby and they may have some pain after vaginal delivery,” says Dr. Wu.
You’re going through menopause. “[Low sex drive] is also very common in older women. As they become perimenopausal and menopausal, there’s a decrease in estrogen, the vagina becomes drier and less flexible, and they may find sex very difficult and painful,” says Dr. Wu.
You’re feeling pain. Pain during sex is common—nearly three out of four women have pain during intercourse at some time during their lives. Painful sex may a sign of a gynecologic problem, such as ovarian cysts or endometriosis. It may also be due to problems with sexual response, which may be caused by emotions, relationship problems, certain medications, or medical conditions.
You have an underlying health issue. “I always want to make sure that a woman has gone for a regular check up [when treating low libido],” says Dr. Wu. “Certain diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, hypothyroidism, [and] depression can all cause a decrease in libido. And these are easily treated and we can get the patient feeling better and increase libido that way.”
Treatment Options for Low Sex Drive
“Once medical causes of low libido have been ruled out, you also want to explore the relationship the patient has with their partner. Any sort of strife or stress can really decrease libido,” says Dr. Wu.
If you’re having trouble getting aroused, you can try a vaginal cream or sexual lubricant to help with dryness.
If you’re feeling pain during sex, experimenting with different positions may help. Urinating before sex, using lube, or taking a warm bath before getting busy may also help.
If you’re going through menopause, you can ask your doctor about using estrogen cream or taking the hormone estrogen. “Many patients will ask about hormonal therapy for libido, and that is an option, but we do tell patients that there are certain risks to hormonal therapy and if we can achieve better results by treating their medical condition or their depression, then we’d rather do that first,” says Dr. Wu.
FAQ: When Sex is Painful. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (Accessed on March 15, 2018 at https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/When-Sex-Is-Painful)
FAQ: Your Sexual Health. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (Accessed on March 15, 2018 at https://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq072.pdf)
Sexual Dysfunction in Women. American Academy of Family Physicians. (Accessed on March 15, 2018 at https://familydoctor.org/condition/sexual-dysfunction-women)