I Need to Know is an ongoing series for teens in search of reliable, confidential advice about life’s tricky questions. If you’re a teen, send us your questions about sex, drugs, health and relationships and we’ll ask an expert to answer it for you.
Hi I’ve been in a relationship for nearly 4 years now and have gone from having a high libido to a very low one, is there ways that I can change this? - Anonymous
- Our libidos fluctuate. Changes are normal
- Most relationships start on a high, then libidos can decrease
- Communication is key to working through these types of issues.
Changes in libido are common throughout life, and affect all genders. This can cause worry, especially when you notice what seems like a dramatic drop. But there are plenty of ways to help!
Your libido isn’t a switch
Libido is your sexual desire or drive and it’s affected by a combination of physical, emotional, psychological and relationship circumstances.
Going through puberty often leads to the first experiences of libido, which helps us understand the importance of certain hormones in triggering the sex drive. In women, oestrogen is responsible for a lot of the sex drive, while in men it’s testosterone.
Some medical conditions and medications as well as commonly used drugs like alcohol can affect hormones and brain chemicals which lower the sex drive – in other words, there is a physical component to a person’s libido.
For example, depression can cause the sex drive to take a dive, and yet so can medication to treat depression.
Similarly, some people experience lower libido on some hormonal contraceptives, while others find it helps. Everyone is different and things can change over time.
Read more: 'Are Kegel exercises actually good for you?'
Crazy in ‘limerence’
Most importantly, libido is hugely influenced by circumstances and experiences around us, from the past or present. A common scenario is like your own – where libido drops as a relationship gets older.
The early part of a relationship can be full of sex drive and something called limerence. Limerence is an emotional reaction to a new partner or relationship that is intensely romantic – plenty of love songs are written during this phase of a relationship! It’s due to the activation of certain brain chemicals and for some people feels like an addiction or obsession, the feeling of being “madly in love”.
As the relationship continues, limerence declines and sometimes sex drive does too. For some couples, this is fine and doesn’t cause too much concern. For others, having a lower libido creates distress for one or both people.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Sometimes simply knowing that a drop in libido can be normal is reassuring. Other times it’s not and it’s worth checking out a few things. Do a quick scan of your general health, including stress and lifestyle (alcohol, drugs, sleep habits, exercise).
Alternatively chat with your partner and look at what’s happening inside and outside the bedroom. Here’s some good questions to ask them (and remember, talk through them honestly with each other):
do you have different levels of libido or body clocks (one falls asleep at 9pm the other at 1am)?
does your partner want sex much more (or much less) than you do? This can create tension or anxiety which will affect your sex drive
over the four years you’ve been together, have you been able to communicate with each other about what gives you pleasure and does that feel mutual?
what sort of variety do you like in bed?
could there be issues going on outside the relationship, such as financial stress, worry about parents/family or study or work?
could there be issues from the past that have been weighing on your mind?
If you’re worried about a medical issue, see your GP to start with. If it’s more likely to be related to stress or your relationship, then you could see a counsellor on your own or as a couple.
You might not need professional intervention – many couples can figure out this stuff with good communication, but don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you want to.
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Melissa Kang does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Authors: Melissa Kang, Associate professor, University of Technology Sydney