What Happened to My Sex Drive?
Seriously, where did my libido go?
"What can be contributing to a low libido and what are affordable things I can do about it? (i.e. seeing a therapist might not be an option)"
It can be really frustrating if you want more sex in your life but never feel in the mood. Before jumping into some ways that you can change your relationship with sexual desire, I want to clarify that how much you want sex is personal and there’s no right or wrong amount to want sex or to have it. Everyone is different and it’s ok to want sex a lot, sometimes, or never. The only time that it becomes a problem is if it’s bothering you...which it sounds like it is! So let’s look at some *inexpensive* ways to increase how often you want to have sex!
First, rule out medical causes for low desire.
Certain health conditions and medications can impact your desire, so if you have ongoing physical or mental health conditions, it may be worth asking a medical professional if this could be impacting your libido.
Identify what’s getting in the way of getting turned on.
Take some time to examine what might be preventing you from experiencing desire as much as you’d like to. Was there a time in your life when you felt really satisfied with your libido? If so, what was different about that time? Identifying what might be inhibiting your sexual desire gives you specific places to start making changes.
A few things that can commonly impact sexual desire:
Exhaustion, lack of time
Anxiety when having sex with a partner
Sex is not enjoyable/Partner doesn’t know how to touch me in a way that feels good
I’m not attracted to my partner anymore
I am not comfortable having sex with my partner
Previous trauma or unwanted sexual touch
Body image issues, body dysphoria, not feeling sexy
Physical or mental health issues
Low self confidence
Not wanting sex very often but feeling a pressure to want it more (from culture, peers, or a partner)
Shame or embarrassment around sex/my body
I honestly just don’t want sex that much and I never have
These are just a few of many contextual factors that can impact your sex drive. Take some time to think about which factors impact your experience of sexual desire the most.
Pay attention to what makes you feel sexy.
Knowing what turns you on and what feels good sexually can help increase your odds of experiencing sexual desire more frequently. What turns you on might be very concrete or more abstract. For example, you might know that watching guy-on-guy porn is a surefire way for you to get turned on. Or you might feel sexy and more likely to want sex when you have a really long, intimate conversation with someone. Trust your past experience to inform you about what you personally find most stimulating/attractive/sexy and then plan some sexual exploration from there.
Create opportunities to experience arousal and desire.
Culture tends to tell us that sexual desire should be spontaneous and frequent, but that is not how most people experience sexual desire. In reality, sexual desire tends to be very context dependent and responsive (perhaps particularly for people with a vagina). This means that often, the conscious and consensual desire to be sexual comes after you’re already physically aroused in some way by a sexual stimulus in your environment. A sexual stimulus can mean anything from seeing your crush across the room to hearing a friend talk about their latest hookup to reading erotica with the intention of getting turned on. Being aroused by a sexual stimulus doesn’t mean anything about whether you want to have sex or not in that moment...it’s just a biological response. BUT! If your goal is to increase sexual desire, why not experiment with harnessing arousal to your benefit?
Now that you’ve identified some of the things that tend to turn you on and that you find sexy, make time to consciously and consensually engage with those stimuli (and of course, if other people are involved, make sure that they are consenting as well). Watch sexy scenes from your favorite movie, read erotica, look at sexy photos on Instagram, play around with a vibrator, make time to masturbate, fantasize without judging or censoring yourself, touch your partner, connect with a crush… The weird part of this suggestion is to try doing these things even if you aren’t currently turned on. The idea is that you are creating opportunities to get turned on and experience the conscious desire to be sexual. There’s no guarantee that it will happen but it is more likely. You still get to consent to when and how you engage with sexual stimuli.
Play without pressure.
Whether we’re talking masturbation or sex with a partner, a common libido-crusher is the pressure to perform or to achieve a certain outcome. If this resonates with you, make time to experience sexual touch without the goal of orgasming or achieving a specific outcome. This doesn’t mean that you’re saying you don’t need to orgasm in general, but it creates space for you to experience yourself sexually without expectations that might be constricting or killing your desire.
Know when to seek outside help.
You may want outside support if you have experienced sexual trauma or unwanted sexual touch. Or, you may just want some professional guidance as you explore your sexuality and desire. However, talk therapy can often be expensive. There are still a few options. You can look for free support groups that offer a space and a community for processing sexual trauma or for exploring sexuality. For more affordable one-on-one therapy, look for services in your area that are advertised as community mental health, agency mental health, low-cost, or sliding-scale.
Similarly, if you are experiencing unwanted physical pain during sex, you should seek support from a medical professional.
Getting familiar with how desire works for you—what turns you on, what turns you off, and in what contexts—gives you more agency and control over your sexual experience and makes it more likely that you will experience desire.
Louise is an associate marriage and family therapist who writes about sex and relationships. Want more juicy facts about sex from a feminist, research-based, perspective? Check out more of her writing and follow her on Instagram @swoon.sex.ed.