Pharmaceutical companies have been racing against one another for years now to see who can be the first to manufacture a drug that would positively impact a woman’s interest in sex. For more information read my blog on Addyi.
Female sexual desire is complex and dependent on psychological, physical, and relational factors.
Mainstream Canadian society teaches us that people, no matter the gender, ought to be interested and willing to participate in sex from the time we are teenagers until well into adulthood. Sex also has a very hetero-normative and rigid definition, penis in vagina (PIV) intercourse. We learn that if we are not curious about, or willing to participate in sex that there is something wrong with us. Where are the other more balanced messages that explain that approximately 70% of women and 30% of men have what is called responsive or reactive desire? The kind of desire that kicks in after you start having pleasurable sex. The fact that the majority of women and a good percentage of men do not walk around experiencing spontaneous desire, noticing sexual cues, or thinking much about sex in their day to day lives may be surprising and relieving to many people. It just may be that we are pathologizing something that is perfectly healthy and normal.
It is my clinical experience that many people who experience decreased desire are not having the kind of sex they want.
In other words, the sex they are having is not worth having. If people could interact with their lovers as intimate teammates working to co-create the sex life they want to have together and give permission to themselves and their partners to do things that give them pleasure, especially if it is not PIV, then I imagine I would be less busy at work. I do not want to minimize the importance and impact of other factors like having children, medical illnesses, and negative body image. These are real stressors that can decrease a person’s willingness and desire to be sexual. However, improving the quality of the sex you have is something that is potentially in your control and can be changed with a shift in attitude and a conversation with your lover(s).
If your desire has taken a nosedive, in addition to getting a physical examination, improving the quality of your relationship, and figuring out how to make sex more pleasurable and therefore more worthwhile, what else can someone experiencing lower desire do?
I’ve written about good mental and physical health before, and likely will again. The same strategies apply to good sexual health so I would be remiss if I did not mention eating a balanced diet, moderate but regular exercise, and getting consistent sleep.
Another common culprit to decreased desire is hormonal birth control. Although libido is not impacted for every woman taking the pill, a significant number of women find that they lose their mojo while taking the pill and get it back when they stop.
Interestingly, a recent study* points to a vitamin D deficiency as a contributor to Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), which is characterized as persistent difficulties with the sexual response cycle (desire, arousal, orgasm), and/or pain. This research showed women with FSD, as rated by the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI), have significantly lower vitamin D and higher rates of depression as measured by the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) compared to women not meeting criteria for FSD. So perhaps taking a vitamin D supplement might also help.
An MRI study, lead by Helen Fisher, has shown that looking at picture of your partner for 30 seconds activates the part of the brain that produces dopamine, an important neurotransmitter connected to libido. So maybe staring at a picture of your lover(s) can help increase sexual desire. I imagine this trick only works if your relationship is in good shape and your partner is not currently in the doghouse.
For most women, I do not believe the solution to increasing desire is taking a pill. Instead, it is carving out the time to make sex a priority, seeing ourselves as sexual beings, getting comfortable with our bodies and sexual self esteem, allowing ourselves to experience pleasure (in and outside of the bedroom), asking our partners to do things that give us pleasure, giving ourselves permission to have a sexual voice, managing stress, and nurturing our romantic relationships.
*Tovey, A & Cannell, JJ. Research discovers female sexual dysfunction is associated with vitamin D deficiency. The Vitamin D Council Blog & Newsletter, 2016.