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What is Low Libido: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Definition and Overview

Low libido is a health problem that affects both men and women. Although it is more commonly linked to men because of its association with erectile dysfunction, this condition actually affects more women. It can manifest temporarily, for prolonged periods of time, or recurrently, depending on the cause.

Impaired sexual libido is often not a distinct condition but is rather an effect of underlying physical, mental, and emotional issues. This is why it is best not to ignore it as it may be a sign of a health problem that may require treatment.

Cause of Condition

The following is a general list of factors that have been linked to a reduced interest in sex:

  • Relationship or marriage issues. Many individuals suffer from low sexual desire due to problems in their personal life, usually affecting their relationship or marriage. In fact, this is the most common cause of low libido. Many couples stumble upon this problem when they become too familiar or too comfortable with their partners or the routines of their relationship or marriage. Some also experience other problematic issues in their relationship that decrease their intimacy and affect their sexual interest.

  • Poor sexual performance. For some couples, poor sexual performance may also serve as a barrier to intimacy and may lead to a loss of libido in either partner. Existing ejaculation or erection issues may negatively affect a man’s body image and self-esteem, and men may also avoid pursuing sexual pleasure due to the fear of being rejected.

  • Depression. A person who is suffering from depression, which is characterized by feelings of extreme sadness or hopelessness, may also lose their sex drive, either due to the depression itself or as a side effect of prescribed antidepressants they may be taking.

  • Drug and alcohol consumption. Consuming excess amount of drugs or alcohol may have a negative effect on a person’s interest in sex. One particular drug, marijuana, is known to have a direct effect on the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the production of the male hormone testosterone. Also, while alcohol is more commonly known to lower a person’s inhibitions, too much of it tend to have a completely opposite effect.

  • Medical problems. Certain medical problems, especially those that are chronic such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, may affect a person’s interest in sex. Some women also experience a condition called vaginismus, which causes the vaginal muscles to involuntarily contract during intercourse.

  • Age. Men and women may experience low libido as a result of decreasing testosterone (male hormone) and estrogen (female hormone) levels, a natural occurrence as a person ages. A decrease in estrogen levels also tends to occur as a woman approaches menopause.

  • Hormonal issues. Changes in a person’s hormone levels, either as an effect of thyroid problems or taking contraceptive measures, may have a direct effect on a person’s sex drive.

  • Life-changing events. Major changes in a person’s life may also affect his or her passion for having sex. For example, low libido among women is heavily linked to marked stages in their life, such as during pregnancy, after childbirth, or during the breastfeeding period.

  • Side effects of medication. Medications such as diuretics, antidepressants, and those used for treating seizures, epilepsy, psychosis, and hormonal imbalances, have been observed to decrease sexual libido.

  • Stress. People who are under a lot of stress, experience anxiety, or are often exhausted may also have a reduced interest in sexual intercourse because of the distraction that their stress brings. Stress is usually the underlying cause behind other factors that trigger libido loss, such as hormonal imbalances and erectile dysfunction, whereas exhaustion makes a person more interested in sleeping than in having sex.

  • Trauma. A history of physical abuse or sexual trauma may cause a person to have a long-term loss of libido.

Key Symptoms

While low libido is often a symptom in itself, there are some warning signs that should prompt a person to seek diagnosis or treatment. For example, the following symptoms, when accompanied by decreased libido, may be signs of hypogonadism, a condition affecting the gonads or sex glands, specifically the testes for men and the ovaries for women, and is characterized by the inadequate production of sex hormones.

  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of body hair
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Infertility
  • Lack of menstruation for women
  • Milky breast discharge for women
  • Muscle loss for men

Furthermore, low libido caused by erectile dysfunction should also be given special attention, since the inability to achieve erections is, in itself, a serious warning sign of a health problem that may need medical attention.

Low libido should also get checked out when it is accompanied by a noticeable decrease in semen volume when a man ejaculates. Reduced semen production is also a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance.

Other symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Increased fat levels, which may be caused by gynecomastia, a condition that causes enlarged breasts among men
  • Decreased bone mass, which may be a sign of osteoporosis
  • Mood swings

Who to See and Types of Treatments Available

If a person finds his or her low sexual libido to be worrisome, he or she can bring this to the attention of either a primary care doctor or GP or a gynecologist. Doctors may ask some questions regarding the patient’s medical and sexual history to diagnose the problem. Low libido is usually diagnosed as hypoactive sexual desire disorder or, in women, sexual arousal disorder. For female patients, a pelvic exam may be used to check for physical symptoms such as thinning genital tissues, painful spots, and vaginal dryness. Hypoactive sexual desire disorders, as well as hypogonadism, are treated and managed through hormone replacement or assisted reproduction. Hormone replacement therapy can be done through injection, patch, gel, implantable pellets, or buccal cavity methods.

Additionally, low libido itself may be treated by sex therapy or counseling, which aims to evaluate and address the emotional and mental factors that may be hindering a person from experiencing sexual desire. Relationship problems may also be addressed through marriage or relationship counseling. On the other hand, if stress and exhaustion are causative factors, patients may also benefit from relaxation techniques and activities such as meditation and acupuncture.

If hormonal imbalance or thyroid issues are suspected, the doctor may request for blood tests and hormone testing. Other tests may also be used to detect other possible medical conditions. Once the underlying cause is determined, corresponding treatment may begin.


  • Mark Epstein, MD, New York; author of Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life, Gotham Books, 2005. New York Times, February 11, 2007: “Spain Says Adios Siesta and Hola Viagra.” Reviewed on December 09, 2010