Loss of sexual desire is less common in men than it is in women. It occurs in about 15% of men compared to about 30% of women. But for those men who do have low libido it often bothers them more than it does women. “Men’s feelings about themselves and their masculinity are very closely tied to their sexuality,” says Dr. Daniel Watter, a specialist in treating sexual dysfunction and marital/relationship issues with The Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany, NJ, “and decreased sex drive can be deeply unsettling.” In one study, 46% of women with low libido reported overall satisfaction with their lives. Only half as many men – 23% – were happy with their lives in general when their interest in sex declined.
What constitutes low sex drive?
As with many human traits, sex drive varies widely. And even within successful committed relationships, there are times when there is a mismatch in interest between partners. The assessment of low sex drive is not based solely on frequency of sexual intimacy but on how the individual feels about it both before and after. If over a period of weeks or months a man does not look forward to and fantasize about sex with his partner, if the act does not foster feelings of closeness and intimacy and, most important, if either he or his partner is unhappy about his lack of interest, it is time to recognize and address the problem before it does serious damage to the relationship.
What can be done about loss of sexual desire? Tips for Action.
“There is no single remedy for low libido,” says Dr. Watter, “but men don’t have to live with it. The first step toward a solution is to identify the cause of the problem for a given individual.” Causes fall into three general categories: biological, emotional and relationship-based. Dr. Watter recommends these approaches.
1. See your doctor: A wide range of medical conditions and medications can adversely affect libido. Any serious illness is likely to reduce interest in sex and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension can reduce blood flow throughout the body, impeding arousal. Disorders of the thyroid and pituitary glands, which control hormone production, can also diminish libido. The drugs known as SSRIs, commonly prescribed for depression, affect sex drive as do some tranquilizers and blood pressure medications. Excessive use of alcohol and illicit drugs also dampen interest.
Testosterone is the hormone most closely linked to libido and low testosterone levels usually correlate to diminished sexual desire. Testosterone levels drop with age and some young men have low testosterone as well. But Dr. Watter is wary of widespread use of testosterone replacement. “Some studies have shown an increased risk of heart disease with testosterone therapy,” he says. “It is important for men to discuss testosterone replacement with their medical doctors.”
2. Reduce stress: “Everyday worries about a job, finances, children and relationships can cause anxiety and diminished self-esteem, which can wreak havoc with the libido,” says Dr. Watter. “An honest effort by both partners to face the issue and make lifestyle adjustments may be all that’s needed.” For more serious psychological disturbances, such as depressive disorders or a history of sexual abuse or a dysfunctional family environment, professional help may be needed.
3. Rekindle the relationship: Problems in the bedroom may or may not be indicative of larger problems in the relationship. “If an honest assessment concludes that both partners are happy overall,” says Dr. Watter, “there is no shortage of advice on how to regain the feelings of emotional closeness that lead to heightened intimacy and sexual satisfaction.” Consultation with a mental health professional is often necessary to unblock the obstacles that interfere with connecting.
“It’s important to recognize that loss of libido and erectile dysfunction are not the same thing,” says Dr, Watter, “but they are often linked.” Men with ED generally have normal sex drive but impaired ability to get or maintain an erection due to psychological, circulatory or nerve problems. Men with loss of libido have no erectile difficulty once aroused but their interest is diminished. However, experiencing repeated instances of ED can cause anxiety that may cause a man to shut down his libido to avoid the problem. “Many cases of ED can be treated with medications such as Viagra and Cialis,” says Dr. Watter, “which can restore a man’s confidence and his libido with it. However, many times the psychological causes of ED will need to be addressed in addition to adding medication.”
“The myth about men’s sexuality – that they are ready to have sex at any time in any circumstances – just isn’t true for most men,” Dr. Watter concludes. “But it is almost always the case that the root cause of loss of sexual desire can be identified and overcome. Sometimes the best solution is to seek professional help. If medical issues have been eliminated as the cause, psychological counseling or sex therapy, either for the individual or the couple, can restore the emotional connectedness needed for a successful physical relationship.”