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6 Things Every Woman Needs to Know about her Libido
Get the lowdown on your libido
By Heather Morse

Discover what revs your desire – and what squashes it – in this surprising guide to female sexuality.

 

1 Time at the gym can lead to more time between the sheets

Besides boosting your cardio capabilities and muscle strength, exercise can also pump up your libido, says Diane Hargis-Reynolds, a certified nurse midwife with RowanSOM.

“Exercise releases endorphins, which then leads to a release of hormones that increase your sex drive,” says Hargis-Reynolds. “When you work out, it also increases circulation throughout your entire body, including your sex organs. It’s a win-win.”

And while there’s no doubt that a Saturday morning spin class or Zumba session can get your body and love life back in shape, there’s also one sex-friendly exercise you can do in the comfort of your own home without even breaking a sweat, says Hargis-Reynolds.

“I tell all of my patients that they should be doing Kegel exercises, whether they’ve had a child or not,” says Hargis-Reynolds. “They tone and strengthen your pelvic muscles, which in turn increases vaginal sensation and sensitivity, and gives you improved and more intense orgasms. Doing Kegels while thinking about your partner is an easy way to put yourself in the mood.”

 

2 Your medicine cabinet might be sabotaging your sex drive

Those pills that keep your high blood pressure and depression in check – while no doubt vitally im­portant to your health – can also make your sex drive take a nosedive.

“The most common culprit is antidepressants – medications like Prozac and Zoloft. They’re part of a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs,” says Virtua ob/gyn Colleen McCleery, MD. “They help fight depression by raising serotonin, but pretty much all SSRIs also lower libido levels.”

Blood pressure medications have also been linked to adverse sexual effects, says McCleery, since they lower blood flow and can therefore cause vaginal dryness, lower libido and difficulties achieving orgasm. Statins and fibrates – drugs used to treat high cholesterol – are another libido-squashing class of medications, since they interfere with the production of testosterone, estrogen and other sex hormones.

Birth control pills are another major medicinal factor when it comes to low libido, says McCleery.

“So many women take birth control pills – even women going into their early to mid-40s – and don’t realize that they can have a big impact on their sex drive,” she says. “The pill works by way of synthetic estrogens, but they also lower testosterone, which is a huge factor in libido.”

That’s not to say you should throw out your birth control or any other medications that you think might be affecting your desire to have sex, cautions McCleery.

“Don’t just stop taking your medications,” she says. “There are lots of alternatives out there, so talk to your doctor about what might be a better choice if you feel like your libido is suffering.”

 

3 There is no “normal” sex drive

Trying to keep up with the Joneses is never a good idea – especially when you’re comparing libidos.

“Libido varies greatly from person to person, and it’s something that can change with time. I have a lot of patients ask me what’s normal and what’s not normal, but for one couple it could mean having sex one time a month, but for another couple it could be two to three times a week,” says Eric Grossman, MD, of Advocare Premier OB/GYN of South Jersey.

“I have patients who report having less interest in sex as they age, and that itself isn’t bad or unusual,” he says. “The time to do something about a waning sex drive is if it’s affecting your relationship or if you experience a significant deviation from your normal sex drive.”

In those cases, Grossman urges women to turn to their doctor or even a therapist.

“If there’s a relationship component to your lack of sex drive, a therapist can help you address the issue,” he says. “It’s also a good idea to see your primary care doctor or OB/GYN. Hormones usually get blamed – and they can definitely be a factor – but it could indicate other health concerns. Ultimately, you want to get back to a place where you’re happy and comfortable with your libido.”

 

4 Say hello to sex, and goodbye to headaches and stress

Sex isn’t just good, it’s also good for you, says McCleery.

“Sex not only improves our relationship with our partner and ourselves, it also improves our health,” says McCleery. “Sometimes I have patients look at me like I have three heads when I tell them that sex really does matter and plays an important role in our lives – it’s a medically necessary part of our health.”

Those surprising medical benefits include improved immunity, a boost to heart health and lower blood pressure. McCleery says that studies have also shown that a rise in oxytocin levels – the “love hormone” released during orgasm – can relieve pain.

“It helps alleviate everything from headaches and cramps to arthritis and chronic pain,” she says. “That rush of oxytocin also releases endorphins that have a relaxing effect, which often leads to stress relief and better sleep.”

McCleery also says that sex on a regular basis not only enhances your life, it may extend it, too. “Numerous studies show that men and women who experience frequent orgasms tend to live longer than those who don’t.”

 

5 You’ve gotta use it or lose it

Instead of rolling over, saying goodnight and waiting for a night when you’re in the mood, you might want to reconsider, says Hargis-Reynolds.

“Men’s libidos are like a light switch – they just think about it, and they’re ready. Women often want to be coddled and romanced and experience foreplay before they actually feel like having sex,” she says. “The key for women is understanding this and knowing that once you start having sex, you’ll likely be happy you did.”

“It’s not about forcing yourself to have sex when you don’t want to. It’s about recognizing that once you get started you enjoy it, and helping yourself get over that initial disinterest so you can enjoy it,” adds Hargis-Reynolds. “Plus, the more you have sex, the more you’ll want to have sex. The less you have sex, the harder it is to become aroused.”

That’s not to say women need to think and act like men to have a satisfying sex life, says Hargis-Reynolds.

“Women don’t need to think like men, but just thinking and fantasizing about sex more often can really jump-start your libido,” she says. “I also encourage women to buy some lingerie, watch soft porn or even go to one of those sex toy parties with a group of women. The more you think about having sex, the more you’ll want to have sex.”

 

6 Your brain is your biggest sex organ

There’s grocery shopping, the deadline at work, the school field trip, those dirty socks your husband left on the floor – no wonder you’re not in the mood, right?

Libido and sexual response for women is a complicated mind-body reaction, says Grossman, and precisely why it’s so hard for many women to want sex when they’re distracted by to-do lists or when they’re feeling unappreciated by her partner.

“Women are pulled in a lot of different directions, especially as they age. They might be caring for their children and their aging parents at the same time, all while trying to juggle work and their other responsibilities,” he says. “All that stress can keep you up at night, and if you’re going through menopause you’re also experiencing hot flashes and night sweats that are keeping you awake. You wake up physically and mentally exhausted every day, and you definitely don’t feel like having sex.”

The key to turning up your libido, says Grossman, is to tune out all those lists and responsibilities and schedule time for intimacy, even if it’s just for 20 minutes.

“If you find yourself feeling too tired to have sex during the week, set aside time when there’s no work or stress, like Sunday morning. You’ve got to get into what I call ‘vacation mode,’” he says. “Let the mail pile up and phone calls go to voicemail. It can wait. Just enjoy and focus on your partner – that will do wonders for your libido.”

 

May 2017
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