Diminished libido is the most common sexual problem among women. And while it is often associated with menopausal women, increasing numbers of young women also complain of loss of desire. “Low sexual desire is more prevalent in older women but young women find it especially distressing,” says Dr. Larisa Wainer, psychologist with Morris Psychological Group. “Women in the prime of life and at the height of their fertility think there is something wrong with them when their lack of interest in sex persists for weeks or months. In fact, sexual desire in women is a complex phenomenon that fluctuates and can be affected by any number of physiological and psychological factors.”
There are no standards when it comes to a woman’s sex drive or to a couple’s frequency of sexual intimacy. Normal is whatever is satisfying for both partners. Low libido, or female sexual interest/arousal disorder, as it is scientifically known, is not characterized simply by low levels of sexual desire but by the level of distress it causes a woman or her partner. “Diminished sex drive is upsetting for many young women and can put a great deal of strain on a relationship,” says Dr. Wainer, “and that tension can further inhibit desire, making the problem worse. But it is often possible to identify the factors that contribute to low libido and take corrective measures to rekindle desire.
What can be done about low libido in young women?
Diminished sexual desire in an individual woman may be traced to a physiological cause or may be due to a combination of physical, psychological and relationship-based issues. Dr. Wainer recommends starting with a complete physical exam:
- Some medications, including birth control pills and anti-depressants, can inhibit desire and changing the medication or modifying the dosage may be all that’s needed.
- Many illnesses can have an effect on libido, including diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and neurological conditions. Blood tests can identify undetected thyroid, cholesterol or liver problems.
- Hormonal fluctuations, particularly those associated with pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, affect libido. Also, of course, the stress, fatigue and disruption brought about by the arrival of a newborn put an additional brake on a couple’s intimacy.
Psychological factors affecting a woman’s libido can range from sex-related beliefs and attitudes, to poor body image and accompanying low self-esteem, to history of trauma, to anxiety and depression. “The messages a woman receives during her upbringing, from her family and the surrounding culture, can heavily influence the way she comes to view and express herself sexually. Then there are sexual experiences that she encounters, which can range from unfulfilling to traumatizing. Plus, there is the mind-body connection to consider. What we struggle to manage at the emotional and cognitive levels interferes with the type of relaxed, open and playful engagement that facilitates sexual desire in the mind and arousal in the body. For example, anxious feelings and accompanying worry thoughts lead to rigidity and tension, while depressed mood and self-defeating negativity encourages listlessness and numbness. Needless to say, these states are prohibitive to a vital libido.” Women who are struggling with these issues benefit from counseling with a professional trained in the psychology of sexuality.
Decreased interest in sex is also associated with a variety of relationship factors. Discrepant levels of sexual interest, unresolved disagreements, poor communication, as well as conflicts around intimacy, power, and control between partners can all mitigate sexual desire. Both partners must be committed to overcoming the difficulties and communicating openly and honestly, either on their own or with the help of a marriage counselor trained in the field of sexology.
Even successful long-term relationships require tending and can fall into a rut. “The type of emotional intimacy that women seek to achieve in the beginning of a relationship may be exactly what undermines sexual desire later on. It’s important to continue to discover one another, to flirt, to create opportunities to see each other in different roles, in other words to keep the excitement going. ” It’s easy to become wrapped up in daily routines and responsibilities, which leave little time and energy for intimacy. Hire a babysitter to take the kids out for the afternoon, send a flirtatious text or email, go out to dinner, bring home a gift for no reason, plan a last-minute getaway, turn off the TV and computer, talk to each other, make your relationship a priority.
“The best way to counter low libido is to identify its root cause,” Dr. Wainer concludes. “Whatever is inhibiting that enjoyment can be overcome.”