Everything You Need to Know About Women’s Libido
From the basics of libido to the causes of low libido and how to boost sexual desire, find out everything you need to know about women’s sexual desire and the important role it plays in ensuring an overall healthy life.
What is libido?
When we’re talking about sexual wellness, one of the most important indicators of healthy sexual function is a healthy libido. Libido, simply speaking, is your sex drive. A high libido means you have a higher desire for sex, and a lower libido means you have a lower desire for sex.
What does a healthy sex drive look like?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question—we all have differing needs, so one woman’s sexcapades may not be your cup of tea. That’s okay.
Instead, ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I satisfied with my level of desire for sex?
- Am I satisfied with the quality of sex I have?
- Is my partner satisfied with our sex life?
- Has there been a sudden change with my desire for sex?
These questions can help you determine whether your libido is on track, or if you might want to seek additional support or speak to a doctor about your sexual wellbeing.
How do men and women compare when it comes to libido?
We often hear that men have a greater desire for sex than women, but recent studies show that this isn’t necessarily true. What is true, however, is that women have a more complex libido that’s influenced by multiple factors, while men’s libido tends to be more straightforward.
"Sexual desire in women is extremely sensitive to environment and context," says sociologist Edward O. Laumann, PhD.
Men might often get turned on spontaneously, and while this can happen for women too, it’s a lot less common. Instead, women’s desire for sex is usually a response to stimuli such as a sexual fantasy, sensual touch, or anticipation.
"I hear women say that desire originates much more between the ears than between the legs," says psychotherapist Esther Perel. "For women there is a need for a plot–hence the romance novel. It is more about the anticipation, how you get there; it is the longing that is the fuel for desire."
How do you know if your libido is at a healthy level?
It’s completely normal for a woman’s desire for sex to vary depending on life circumstances and other factors. Anything from your menstrual cycle and pregnancy to illness or lifestyle changes can cause your libido to shift.
Nearly one in three women between the ages of 30-59 experience low libido at some point in their lives–it’s very common.
“Some women who think they have low sexual desire actually just don’t have the spontaneous desire they had in their teens and 20s, but they still have responsive desire,” says Dr. Lyndsey Harper, a board-certified OB-GYN.
Only you (possibly with the help of your doctor) can determine whether your libido is at a healthy level or if there’s cause for concern.
No matter how low or high your libido is, it’s up to you to decide whether your desire for sex (or lack thereof) is of concern to you. Has there been a sudden, unexplainable change? Has the change in libido lasted long enough to cause you concern? Is the change upsetting to you or otherwise causing issues in your life?
What is the main cause of low libido in women?
There are several factors that can cause low libido in women. These include:
- Stress or anxiety can not only make you less interested in sex, but they can also impact your body’s physical responses to sexual stimuli. Similarly, self-esteem and state of mind are closely connected to your sex drive and ability to engage in sexual activity.
- Depression, not surprisingly, can lower your desire for sex and also pose a challenge when it comes to sexual arousal.
- Your diet, whether it’s too high in sugar and refined carbohydrates–or too low in the nutrients your body needs to function properly–can cause your libido to be less than ideal.
- The medication you take, including oral birth control or antidepressants, may lower your libido level and impact arousal.
- What birth control doesn't cause low libido?
- Hormonal birth control can lower your libido, but hormone-free methods of birth control such as IUDs, condoms, and diaphragms do not usually impact your libido.
- Why do antidepressants cause low libido?
- 1 in 6 women in the U.S. take antidepressants, and studies have shown that they can have a significant effect on libido. The effects differ based on the individual and the type of antidepressant, but research has shown that medications that affect serotonin levels have a greater impact on lowering libido.
- Hormonal changes in your body are a major cause of decreased libido and challenges with arousal as well as a possible explanation for painful sex. Hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy, the postpartum period, and while breastfeeding are especially likely to affect sexual function
- Which hormones specifically?
- Estrogen: Estrogen is critical to women’s health, so it’s no surprise that out-of-balance estrogen levels affect libido and sexual function.
- Testosterone: Not only is testosterone important to men’s sexual health, but it also plays a big role in women’s libido. Lower levels of testosterone may decrease your libido.
- Cortisol: Known as the stress hormone, cortisol levels have a huge impact on libido, with elevated cortisol levels leading to lower desire for sex.
- Aging and menopause can greatly affect your libido and arousal, too. Testosterone levels decrease as we age, and estrogen levels reduce sharply during menopause. Both of these hormones are incredibly important to sexual wellness, so aging and/or menopause can be the cause of sexual dysfunction.
- Chronic medical conditions can lower your desire for sex or affect your physical and mental arousal. According to the American Family Physician journal, chronic medical illnesses like diabetes, for example, “can have a negative effect on a patient’s body image and perception of self as a sexual being."
- The effect of anemia on women’s libido: Anemia occurs when your body lacks enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body, resulting in a decline in your body’s functioning. According to studies like this one, women with iron-deficiency anemia have lower scores of sexual function and satisfaction.
- Fatigue—as you no doubt know—may make women less interested in sex.
- Sexual trauma or other traumatic experiences related to intimacy or in relationships can profoundly impact libido and arousal, as well as cause painful sex.
- It’s possible that a vaginal disorder is the culprit of sexual dysfunction symptoms like painful sex and inability to become or maintain genital arousal.
What deficiencies can cause low libido?
Just like imbalanced hormones can cause low libido, insufficient nutrients can also be the culprit. Some of the main nutrients that affect libido include:
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to a decreased production of sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, leading to lower libido. According to this study, “vitamin D supplementation improves female sexual functioning and mood in women with low vitamin D status.”
Low iron levels–which often causes anemia–can lower your libido, since iron is needed to carry oxygen to your cells.
Zinc is involved with testosterone production, so low levels of zinc can dampen your libido.
Your body requires Vitamin B12 to support nerve cell function, and to create red blood cells. Because our bodies do not naturally produce Vitamin B12, we need to derive it from food and supplements. Low B12 levels can cause anemia, fatigue, a lowered mood, and depression–all factors that decrease libido.
Why is low sex drive a problem?
A healthy sex life has its obvious benefits: physical pleasure, intimacy, emotional connection.
Not only is great sex pleasurable, however, studies have shown that a balanced sex life and healthy sexual function benefit women’s bodies and minds in many ways. Good sexual health is connected to your overall physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.
When you have sex—and especially when you reach orgasm—it activates neurotransmitters that positively affect your overall health.
A healthy sex life leads to:
- lowered stress
- a better immune system
- a stronger heart
- lower blood pressure
- better sleep
- more energy
- higher self esteem
- an increase in overall happiness
The key takeaway is that feeling good and balanced drives our happiness, and a healthy sexual life plays an important role in those gratifying feelings. We’ve long known that poor overall health can negatively impact sexual health, but recent studies show that the reverse correlation is also true: Regular and satisfying sexual activity plays an integral role in the quality of life and overall physical health.
An Important Caveat
The most important thing about sexual health is taking control of your own body and needs. It’s about doing what makes you feel comfortable, safe, empowered, and healthy.
It’s true that a lack of desire for sex can be a signal of underlying sexual dysfunction. But, this isn’t true for everyone. For some people, including some asexuals and others who choose to abstain from certain or all sexual activities, a healthy lifestyle may not include sex or may only include solo sexual activities. And that’s totally fine.
These experiences are valid and important to mention. Even though we’re focusing on the libido of women who have sex here, we acknowledge that there are people of all genders who can, and do, live fulfilling, happy lives without engaging in sex.
What is a dead bedroom?
According to Healthline, a dead bedroom is a temporary or permanent phase in your sex life during which you and/or your partner are unsatisfied with the frequency or quality of sex you’re having, or have stopped having sex altogether.
Before you close the casket on your sex life, remember that sexual needs differ from person to person, and couple to couple. For one couple, having sex once a week might be a healthy frequency, while another couple may require more frequent romps.
“It’s a different experience for everyone,” says sex therapist Holly Richmond. “But when we refer to it clinically, it’s generally less than six times a year.”
How can you resurrect a dead bedroom or boost a lowered libido?
If your libido is lower than what feels comfortable and healthy for you, consider:
- Speaking to your doctor. There’s no shame in consulting your doctor about sexual dysfunction. They can help you determine what is causing decreased libido and offer solutions.
- Consulting a sex therapist or counselor. Libido is as tied to your mental state and emotions as it is linked to your physical health. Discussing your experiences, needs, and challenges with an expert can make a world of a difference, especially if your decreased libido is a result of sexual/intimacy trauma.
- Exercising more. Not only will regular exercise help you perform better, but it will also increase your stamina, improve your self-confidence, and lift your mood—all things that boost libido.
- Eating nourishing foods. A nutrient-rich diet supports healthy blood flow, nerve function, and hormone production, which are all important to having a healthy libido and sex life.
- Cutting down on smoking and drinking. Tobacco may reduce blood flow to your vagina, and heavy alcohol use can also make it harder to become physically aroused.
- Increasing the amount of sleep you get. More (and better-quality) sleep helps you feel more energized and less stressed. Studies have shown direct links between getting more sleep and a higher desire for sex, with one study showing that an extra hour of sleep in women led to a 14% increase in the likelihood of having sex the next day.
- Try natural supplements and nutrients that increase your sex drive. Just like health supplements can improve your brain function or help you get clearer skin, sexual health supplements can provide the boost you need. We may be biased here, but our collection of hormonal health supplements help increase libido.
- In certain cases, trying hormone therapy. After consulting with your doctor, the right course of action for you might involve hormone therapy, which means taking estrogen (or testosterone)—both of which play important roles in women’s sexual function—to increase your libido.
Is there a female libido enhancer?
Medications that boost sexual desire and performance among men are fairly common, but for women, there are currently only two FDA-approved drugs that are used to increase women’s libido. These are:
- Flibanserin (Addyi): Taken in pill form once a day, this medication modifies serotonin activity in the brain, leading to a higher libido. It’s only prescribed for premenopausal women.
- Bremelanotide (Vyleesi): This is an injection that you would administer yourself before sex. The drug binds to receptors in the brain, increasing dopamine and allowing for heightened sexual desire and arousal. This drug is also only approved for use in premenopausal women.
Both of these medications involve risks and side effects that should be discussed with your doctor before use.
What about using supplements and vitamins to enhance libido?
If you’re dealing with decreased libido concerns, you should first discuss potential medical causes and treatment plans with your doctor. Once you determine that there aren’t any serious medical issues that are causing the shift, consider adding supplements to enhance your libido. You should also discuss supplements with your doctor before you start taking them.
Consider these natural supplements to boost your libido:
- Dong Quai (female ginseng): Commonly used to support women’s health, dong quai can help support mood and energy levels.
- Red Clover: Red clover contains chemicals called phytoestrogens that are similar to estrogen and can help stabilize hormone levels.
- Sage: It is believed that sage contains compounds with estrogen-like qualities, helping improve sexual health.
- Chasteberry: Chasteberry is used to stabilize estrogen levels and therefore boost libido.
- Horny goat weed: Known for improving blood flow and boosting sexual function, horny goat weed is an apt name for this libido-improving plant.
- Maca root: Native to the Andes Mountains, maca root is commonly believed to boost stamina and improve sexual desire, especially among those taking antidepressants.
- Panax ginseng: This herb helps with blood flow, increasing energy and stamina–which are vital to a healthy sex life.
- Tribulus terrestris: A small, leafy plant, tribulus terrestris (also known as the puncture vine) has long been used to enhance libido and improve sexual satisfaction.
- Muira puama: Native to the Amazon rainforest, Muira puama is a plant often used as an aphrodisiac.
What is a sex gummy?
Just like gummy vitamins contain a healthy cocktail physical function- and immunity-boosting ingredients, sex gummies are tailored specifically to improve your sexual health and performance. By using formulas shown to boost sexual desire and physical arousal, sex gummies give you an added advantage and help to improve a less-than-ideal libido.
When taken regularly, sex gummies can help you get turned on more easily, experience heightened arousal, perform better, and even have better orgasms.
- Enhance Women Libido with: The 'Oh-Mega' Yummy Gummy.
Can lifestyle changes improve your libido?
Your overall health and wellbeing play a vital role in supporting healthy libido, so lifestyle changes can improve your sexual desire. What changes can you make?
Regular exercise lifts your mood, improves your stamina, lowers stress levels, improves self-confidence, and regulates your overall health–making it a great way to improve libido.
Getting enough high-quality sleep helps you feel energized and less stressed, making it much easier to get aroused and perform sexually.
Cut down on smoking and drinking.
Tobacco may reduce blood flow to your vagina, and heavy alcohol use can also make it harder to become physically aroused–so these are lifestyle changes worth considering if you’re looking to improve your sex life.
You can still have your daily coffee, but since caffeine has a negative impact on blood flow, it’s best to maintain a moderate caffeine intake.
Eat nutrient-rich foods.
A diet rich in nutrients and minerals necessary for physical function leads to healthy blood flow, nerve function, and hormone production, which are all important factors when it comes to libido and a healthy sex life.
Which foods can increase your libido?
Foods packed with magnesium help to increase blood flow, so they are a great option if you’re in need of a libido booster. Try regularly incorporating these ingredients into your diet:
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Legumes like black beans and lima beans
- Whole grains such as quinoa
- Nuts and seeds, including almonds and cashews
Zinc is integral to your body’s functions, and since the body doesn’t store zinc, you need zinc-rich foods to stay healthy. Zinc boosts the immune system and helps regulate your body’s overall function, including sexual function. For more zinc, eat:
- Meat, and particularly red meat
- Shellfish such as oysters, crab, and mussels
- Legumes such as lentils, beans, and chickpeas
- Seeds, notably pumpkin and hemp seeds
- Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids:
Omega-3s have been linked to dopamine production, which can help fight depression/anxiety. They also help you get better sleep, making them another great tool to improve your libido.
- Fish oil is the best way to consume more omega-3 fatty acids. Great sources include mackerel, salmon, herring, and anchovies.
- Alternatives include: flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybean oil.
Foods that boost serotonin:
Serotonin, which has many effects on the body, helps increase sexual desire. By eating foods rich in tryptophan, which helps your body produce serotonin, you might see an increase in sexual desire. Try incorporating more of these foods:
- Eggs, especially boiled or poached eggs
- Spinach and other dark, leafy vegetables
- Tofu and other soy products
- Nuts and seeds
What are the benefits of a healthy libido and sex life?
Sure, there’s the obvious benefit: great orgasms. But, did you know that a healthy, balanced sex life also benefits your physical, emotional, and mental health?
A healthy sex life helps you:
Maintain a strong immune system.
Dopamine and oxytocin are released during sex, which reduces the level of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) and gives your immune system a boost. Studies have also shown that sex increases the number of lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell—in your system, resulting in more antibodies to strengthen your body’s defenses.
Keep your heart healthy and lower your blood pressure.
Studies have shown that sex may help lower your blood pressure. Plus, it’s a form of exercise that can improve your cardiovascular health and lower the risk of heart disease. This 2016 study found that women who engage in sex regularly are at lower risk of a cardiac event later in life.
The burst of endorphins and serotonin that occurs when you have an orgasm helps relieve pain. This can range from chronic back pain to menstrual cramps, arthritis, and even headaches and migraines.
Like we’ve already said, sex reduces your cortisol levels, which relieves stress. Some studies have shown that intimacy alone may regulate cortisol levels.
Since sex gives you a workout and lowers your stress, it makes sense that it helps you drift off to sleep more easily. Why count sheep when you can have a romp in the sheets instead?
Increase your libido.
Having regular sex improves blood flow and vaginal lubrication, which will have you wanting sex more often. What does that mean? A healthy sex life leads to an even healthier sex life.
Keep control of your bladder.
Nearly one-third of women will experience incontinence at some point, a sign of a weak pelvic floor. Great sex helps exercise your pelvic floor muscles, which in turn keeps you in control of your bladder.
Feel better about yourself.
Several studies have suggested that having a healthy, safe sex life results in higher self-esteem and improved self-confidence.
Feel closer to your partner.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning that good sexual health isn’t just physically pleasurable for you and your partner, but it also extends to increased feelings of intimacy and closeness that benefit you in all aspects of your relationship.
Just like any of your body’s systems, libido and sexual health are complex—and it’s also highly dependent on individual bodies and experiences. Whatever your lifestyle or situation, taking control of your own sexual health is an empowering act, and the best part is that the positive consequences reverberate through every part of your life.