By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun
6:49 PM EST, March 6, 2013
Low libido can not only ruin a women's sex life but could also cause her to miss out on some key health benefits. Dr. Valerie Omicioli, a certified menopause practitioner and clinical assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that low sexual desire is something that women should not ignore.
What are some of the common causes of low libido in women?
The word libido refers not only to the desire for sex, but also sexual thoughts, fantasies, responsiveness and willingness to engage in sexual activity. When decreased libido causes personal distress, the term hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is used. However, keep in mind that "normal" sexual desire and activity may be very different for different people, from multiple times a week to several times a month. There is no simple on-off switch for women's sexual desire. There are a multitude of internal and external factors that influence sexual feelings. Variables that influence libido include medical conditions, medications, relationship issues, depression, body image, hormone levels, personal and job stress, and living situations. Sexual desire is also strongly related to underlying good health. Women with chronic health conditions are more likely to report decreased sexual activity and low libido.
At what ages does low libido occur?
Decreased desire can occur at any age, but in younger women hormone levels are generally high and less likely to be a factor. Fear of pregnancy or disease, feelings of guilt about sexual activity due to cultural or religious beliefs, a traumatic sexual experience or self-consciousness about appearance may contribute to low libido. Medications such as birth control pills, antidepressants, blood pressure pills, or drugs to treat or prevent cancer can adversely affect libido in women at any age. Post-menopausal women are more likely to experience hot flashes, dryness or discomfort with intercourse, which often affects desire. Keep in mind that even in the absence of a specific problem, sexual desire decreases somewhat as we age.
How do you treat low libido?
A "one size fits all" approach doesn't work. If medications for health conditions are contributing to low libido, there are often alternative choices. For post-menopausal and even some pre-menopausal patients, hormone therapy with estrogen, progestins, or testosterone may be appropriate.
Lifestyle modifications including a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and even 15 minutes of exercise a day can improve self-image and boost sexual energy. Setting aside special time for sexual activity can heighten pleasure and satisfaction: romantic lighting, music or lingerie can set the stage. Long-term relationships can suffer from the same routine and the same moves. Surprise your partner or ask your partner to surprise you! Explore each other's fantasies and try some of them out. If those fantasies include sex toys, there are many discreet online sites. Make a conscious effort to think about sex once a day. Our brain is a potent aphrodisiac.
How much of a role can stress and other mental issues play in low libido?
Women today have many things competing for their time and energy. Approximately three-quarters of mothers work. Job, family, food shopping, meal preparation, managing the household, homework and after-school activities all compete for a parent's time. Even with a partner who shares some of the responsibilities, it can feel overwhelming. By the time there is a pause in her hectic day, sleep may become her body's first priority. Additional stress in the relationship between a woman and her sexual partner may push libido to the back burner. A good question to ask yourself is "how's your libido on vacation?" In a survey conducted by the Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder Registry published in 2010, about 60 percent of women cited stress or fatigue as contributing factors to low libido, more than 40 percent described dissatisfaction with their appearance, 20 to 25 percent described dissatisfaction with their partner's technique, and 20 percent described dissatisfaction with the relationship. In post-menopausal women, 67 percent reported menopausal symptoms as causing low desire.
Could a drug similar to Viagra for men help women with low libido?
While there is no Viagra for women, many new medications to treat women's sexual problems are in development and being tested in clinical trials. Your gynecologist may be a good resource for more specific treatment for low libido.
Are there health benefits to having sex?
Good sex in a caring relationship is good for you. Sexual activity fosters intimacy and closeness. Having sex boosts antibodies that fight infection. Hormone levels including testosterone, DHEA, and oxytocin increase with sex resulting in better sleep, improved intimacy and lower stress. Sex can also lower blood pressure and promote cardiovascular health. So if low libido is a problem, speak up! Talk to your health care provider about your treatment options.
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