In fact, some researchers have argued that the current cultural fascination with libido—and stuff that may help or hurt it—is fueled by drug makers hoping to increase consumer concern about non-existent disorders.
“Although it is illegal for pharmaceutical companies to market drugs prior to regulatory approval, there are no restrictions on marketing diseases,” say the authors of a 2016 paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics. They argue that “hypoactive sexual desire disorder”—the clinical term for low libido—is basically an “invention” of the drug industry. (Here are 8 times it’s totally normal to have a low libido.)
That may be a bit of an overstatement. While there’s no medical definition of “healthy” when it comes to your libido, there’s little doubt that some people experience a stronger sex drive than others—and that certain lifestyle or health factors may cause an individual’s libido to heat up or cool down.
1 You’re taking these meds.
- Many types of medications—from blood pressure drugs to athlete’s foot treatments—can lower your levels of testosterone, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine. Many studies have linked “low T” to reduced libido in both men and women, and so drugs that knock down your testosterone levels may also kill your sex drive. Susan Davis, PhD, a professor of women’s health at Australia’s Monash University, adds antidepressants and other mood-altering drugs to the list of meds that may be decreasing your libido.
2 You’re not getting enough vitamin D.
- Several studies have shown depression causes a drop in libido among both men and women. While depression has many causes and correlates, research has shown too-little vitamin D—a common nutrient shortfall—can promote depression, perhaps by throwing off the brain’s levels of feel-good hormones. (Here are 5 signs you’re not getting enough vitamin D.) While there’s no study that shows taking a vitamin D supplement will improve your sex drive, Austrian and German researchers have found men who get more of the vitamin have higher levels of testosterone. And again, higher T levels are associated with improved libido.
3 Your nest is full.
- For women aged 35 to 47—the ages researchers term the “late-reproductive years”—living with children is associated with a drop in libido, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania. Why? The authors only speculate, but they say parenting-related stress could have a dampening effect on sexual desire. More research backs up the ties between stress and a loss of libido among men—but especially among women. (Treat yourself to one of these 15 stress relief gifts!)
4 You’re not watching your weight.
- Some research has linked obesity with a drop in sexual desire, Davis says. Excess body weight may lower circulating levels of testosterone, which could explain the decrease in libido, say the authors of a 2011 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Drop 5% of your body weight, and you can expect a significant jump in sexual desire, their study shows.
5 You’re exercising close to bedtime.
- Lack of sleep can decrease your body’s production of testosterone, which, again, could be a drag on your libido. Too little sleep can also contribute to low mood or depression, which may also knock down your sex drive, Davis says. While exercise promotes good sleep, exercising within four hours of your bedtime may be keeping you up at night. But there are lots of things you can do—including eating earlier and cutting back on alcohol—to ensure you sleep better tonight.
6 Your relationship is on the rocks.
- OK, so this isn’t such a little thing. But Monash’s Davis says two of the “most critical” contributors to a strong libido are either a good relationship or a new relationship. If you’re unhappy with your partner or the state of your relationship, there’s probably nothing you can do that’s going to fire up your desire for him or her. Consider these 4 ways you could be accidentally sabotaging your relationship.