Loss of libido is a big fear for many men—and their partners. Decreased sex drive has all sorts of repercussions. It can lead to strained relationships, loss of self-esteem and even depression. Determining the cause of reduced sexual desire is the first step towards recovering a healthy sex life.
Low Testosterone and Libido
Unlike women, healthy men don’t experience the rapid drop in sex hormones that accompanies female menopause. Men do, however, produce fewer hormones over time. Testosterone levels begin to drop one percent each year after a man turns 40. This is sometimes referred to as andropause or male menopause. About one-fifth of men aged 60 and older, and one-third of men aged 70 and older, are affected by low testosterone. By the age of 80, the average man will manufacture only 50 percent of the testosterone that he made during peak teen years.
These low testosterone levels may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction, decreased vitality, decreased muscle mass, increased body fat and osteoporosis. Some men may benefit from a prescription for a testosterone replacement, but fortunately, even with reduced levels of testosterone, most men are usually able to enjoy active sex lives.
Other Causes of Low Libido
While testosterone is crucial for sexual performance, low hormone levels are not the most common cause of sexual dysfunction in men. Instead, conditions like type 2 diabetes, depression, prostate cancer and certain medications are more common sources of low sex drive.
Research also shows an association between increased erectile dysfunction, low libido and obesity. A study at Duke University found that obese men were 25 times more likely to be dissatisfied with their sex lives compared to men with healthy body mass indexes (BMIs). While research is ongoing, experts think a combination of psychological and physical health issues contribute to the correlation between obesity and low sex drive. The good news is that losing even a little weight may improve symptoms. For example, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that overweight, diabetic men who lost five to ten percent of their body weight improved erectile dysfunction and increased their sex drives.
Often, physical and psychological aspects of sexual dysfunction are related. For example, erectile dysfunction can lead to anxiety about sexual performance for many men, which can then exacerbate the inability to achieve an erection. Men who suffer from psychological low libido or loss of sex drive should seek counseling.
Lifestyle Changes That Boost Libido
There are simple changes you can make right now to ramp up your libido:
- Exercise regularly. Here’s some inspiration to hit the gym: Keeping fit boosts your self-image, releases tension and improves sexual stamina. In one study, men who exercised vigorously for 60 minutes at least three times a week reported engaging in more intimate activity, and rated their satisfaction with their sexual performance higher, compared to a group of men who walked at a moderate pace. Aim for 30 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic exercise most days.
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Smoking reduces blood flow in the penis, which can result in a type of erectile dysfunction termed "vascular impotence." If you’re a smoker, talk to your doctor about how to quit. Alcohol can impair your nervous system and lead to fatigue, which makes it more difficult to become aroused. Men should consume no more than two drinks a day.
- Commit to communicating. It’s virtually impossible to reignite sexual passion if you don’t intentionally set aside time to nurture your relationship. Plan a weekend away or a weekly date night to connect with your partner. Voicing your needs and divulging your worries regarding intimacy issues helps deepen your bond with your partner, which may make it easier to connect physically. A therapist can help you and your partner communicate about difficult subjects.
- Practice stress management. It’s no secret that stress is a surefire way to kill the mood. Not only is it mentally distracting, but stress also leads to a surge in adrenaline and cortisol, which can disrupt your body’s sex hormone levels. Chronic stress can also cause the arteries to become narrow, which restricts blood flow and can lead to erectile dysfunction. Try meditation, biofeedback or restorative yoga.
- Eat libido-boosting foods. Make antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables a part of your diet. Research has shown foods high in vitamin B, such as figs, may help boost sexual stamina by increasing blood circulation.
- Be affectionate. Engaging in consistent sexual activity can actually boost your overall sex drive. Research shows that testosterone levels decrease during periods of celibacy and increase when a man is more sexually active—kissing and cuddling count.