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Low Sex Drive in Women
Potential Causes & Solutions

Everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to sexual activity. However, when your sex drive decreases it may be more than just sex that is affected so it is important to explore what may be causing it in case their are medical warning signs as well as emotional signals that are trying to get your attention.

There are many reasons that may cause an unusually low sex drive in women. This article will review possible causes as well as suggestions for dealing with a decrease in libido.

Lisa Lawless
By Lisa S. Lawless, Ph.D.
Psychotherapist & Sexuality Expert

CEO & Founder of
Holistic Wisdom, Inc. & NAASAS

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The time in a woman's life when she no longer has menstrual periods can have an effect on sexual desire in several ways:

  • As a woman ages, it may take longer for her to become sexually aroused, and that arousal may be less intense than it was in her earlier years.
  • During menopause, a woman's ovaries stop producing the hormone estrogen. This can lead to vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse uncomfortable.
  • Lack of estrogen also can thin the walls of the vagina, leading to soreness during and after intercourse.

Hormone replacement therapy can help in relieving dryness and discomfort which is often a result of low estrogen levels. Using vibrators, lubricants and natural foods such as sweet potatoes to enhance hormone levels can all be useful in addressing these issues.

See more about sexual herbs and sexual foods. Acupuncture is another really good approach to treating menopause. Read more about peri-menopause, male menopause and senior sex.


When a woman is pregnant, her entire body is affected. Changes in hormone levels can affect her physically and emotionally. As a result, her desire for sex may temporarily change.

Often times a woman will have a stronger sex drive during pregnancy due to the hormone levels shifting to provide additional blood flow to the vagina. This can make sexual contact even more pleasurable. Some women may find that they lose their sex drive, particularly because they are physically uncomfortable due to related pregnancy symptoms or psychologically because they are concerned about the baby.

Within weeks after the child is born, most doctors agree that a woman can return to a normal sex life if she feels comfortable. As her body returns to its pre-pregnancy shape, sexual feelings should return as well.

Sexual interest may vary throughout the stages of pregnancy.

  • Some women report lowered desire during the first three months, when morning sickness can be unpleasant and even debilitating.
  • Many say their desire increased in the second three months (second trimester), as morning sickness diminished.
  • Some say their desire decreased again the final trimester, when the abdomen's new bulk made sex awkward or uncomfortable.

Good To Note-

Tubal ligation (a sterilization procedure in which a woman's fallopian tubes are closed off so that eggs cannot pass through) or other sterilization procedures should not interfere with sex drive unless the woman or her partner was opposed to the procedure. In fact, many couples report an increase in desire once the worry over using birth control is removed.

Pain During Intercourse

If intercourse is uncomfortable or painful, a woman may tense up in anticipation of pain from sex, or she may avoid sex altogether. Painful intercourse may result from the following:

  • Dyspareunia, which is abnormal pain that a woman experiences when her partner's penis enters her vagina. It may result from:

    • A lack of estrogen, which is needed for vaginal lubrication
    • Pelvic infection
    • A tumor or cyst
    • Endometriosis, a condition in which tissue from the uterus adheres to other areas throughout a woman's internal pelvic region, causing pain and other symptoms

  • Vaginismus, (a.k.a.- tight vagina) Painful sex - Vaginismus is vaginal tightness causing discomfort, burning, pain, penetration problems, or complete inability to have intercourse. It can be a physically or psychologically driven condition. If it is psychologically driven, it should be noted that the pain is very real and not imagined.

    Vaginismus may also stem from a medical problem, such as an infection or vaginal irritation. If the vaginismus is not caused by an identifiable medical problem, treatment usually involves seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. Read more about Vaginismus

    • Vaginal infections, whether they are yeast or bacterial infections can irritate the tissue making sexual contact undesired. Bacterial infections can be treated with vaginal creams or oral medication. Yeast infections are sometimes more difficult to address. For more information, please see our article on Yeast Infections.



Sickness frequently decreases desire, whether it's a mild illness such as a head cold or a more chronic or serious illness. When you don't feel well physically, it's often difficult to even think about having intercourse.

Several diseases have been found to directly reduce sex drive:

  • Addison's disease, in which the adrenal glands (glands located above the kidneys that produce many of the body's hormones) fail
  • Cushing's syndrome, a condition caused by high levels of a hormone called cortisol in the body over a long period of time
  • Diseases of the pituitary gland, a gland located near the brain that produces many important hormones

In many cases, it is not the disease itself, but rather the medications used to treat the disease, that reduces a woman's sex drive. This is particularly true of high blood pressure medications and some diuretics.

It's important to report any illness-related changes in sex drive to a physician or therapist.

Other conditions that may affect sexual function include:

  • Cancer
    Living with cancer can be psychologically and physically distressing. Chemotherapy medication may leave a woman feeling ill and tired, eradicating any sexual appetite. Cancer also may affect a woman's self-esteem and her overall feeling of femininity, especially if she has lost her hair from chemotherapy, her ovaries through a hysterectomy, or her breast through a mastectomy.

    Counseling may be an effective way of helping a woman cope with the side effects of her illness. Often group therapy or support groups will provide a woman with reassurance as she meets others who had gone through this painful process and survived.

  • Arthritis
    Arthritis causes pain and swelling in the joints, which can hamper mobility and make sex a physically painful experience. Some types of arthritis may dry out membranes responsible for vaginal lubrication. If you suffer from arthritis, you may be able to enhance your comfort during sex with these suggestions:

    • Try sexual positions that don't put pressure on painful joints
    • Use vaginal lubricants to ease dryness
    • Apply heat before sex to loosen joints
  • Diabetes
    Nerve damage associated with diabetes may lead to decreased vaginal lubrication and difficulty in achieving orgasm. Vaginal lubricants may be effective in treating dryness.
  • Kidney Disease
    Kidney disease may cause hormonal imbalances and nerve damage, which in turn may affect sex drive. Women with kidney disease also should watch for vaginal infections, which may cause extreme discomfort during sex.
  • Spinal Cord Injury
    When the spinal cord is injured, there is almost always some loss of sensation to the body, but this doesn't necessarily mean the end of a healthy sex life. A specialist can provide you with instructions on how to use special methods and devices to enable you to continue to enjoy sex even after a spinal cord injury.
  • Epilepsy
    Epilepsy causes a "short circuit" in the messages sent throughout the brain, and this may include those sent from the nerves that control sexual arousal. Individuals with epilepsy may experience a loss of sex drive and lack of responsiveness. Medication can be very effective in controlling epilepsy.
  • Thyroid Disorders
    Thyroid disorders such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) are marked by changed levels of thyroid hormone in the body. These changes, particularly an abnormally low thyroid level, may decrease sex drive. However, once the condition has been effectively treated, sexual problems usually go away.


Obesity Or Anorexia

Women come in all shapes and sizes, and in most cases, weight is irrelevant to sex drive. However, those who are medically obese may:

  • Be physically unfit and lethargic, which could result in a lack of physical activity and possibly a lack of sexual interest as well
  • Be deficient in certain sex hormones that can influence desire
  • Feel less sexually attractive and may therefore avoid intimate contact

On the opposite end of the weight scale, women who suffer from anorexia nervosa or who are severely underweight may also experience a lack of sexual interest, in addition to other serious health problems. An overly thin woman may feel sexually undesirable, and this can affect her sex drive. Read more about sex for those with weight issues.


Drugs And Alcohol

Many prescription medications may interfere with arousal and the ability to achieve orgasm. These include:

  • Antidepressants to treat anxiety or depression
  • Antipsychotic drugs to treat severe mental disorders
  • Antihypertensive agents to treat high blood pressure

Many people think that alcohol reduces inhibition and therefore is an effective treatment for low sex drive. This is not true. A small amount of alcohol may lower sexual inhibitions when anxiety or tension is the primary cause for low sex drive, but research has proven that alcohol consumption does not improve either sex drive or performance.

Many women report that drinking before sex has a "numbing" effect on them and actually results in diminished desire.


Psychological Factors

Stress, fear, and anxiety are all factors that can dampen sexual desire. The demands of juggling work, family and many other daily responsibilities can be overwhelming for many people. Bills may pile up and cause financial worries, and this distress can lead to low sex drive.

Anxiousness and fear over an ability to perform in bed or to satisfy a partner may sometimes lead to "spectatoring," in which individuals are so concerned about monitoring the experience that they are unable to enjoy it.

Emotional-medical issues, such as depression, have also been linked to dampened desire. In addition, many medications that are prescribed to combat depression or anxiety may have a negative impact on sex drive. Read more about sex and society.


Relationship Issues

The quality of a relationship often strongly influences the couple's sexual satisfaction. In many cases, a lack of communication is at the heart of the problem. The problem may lie both inside and outside the bedroom. For example, the woman may feel that her partner is not responsive or listening to her concerns, likes, and dislikes in her daily life. The communication problem may transfer to the bedroom or it may start there.

Many women are too shy or embarrassed to discuss their sexual desires and needs frankly with their partner. Yet it is crucial to communicate openly. Bottling up emotions, or failing to tell your partner what pleases you, may lead to sexual frustration and unhappiness, and could even bring your sex life to a grinding halt.

Remember, few men have an innate knowledge of what pleases a woman. But in a healthy relationship, most are willing and eager to learn how to please their partners. Many men may need to be taught where to touch and how to stimulate their partner to the point of arousal. Read more about relationship advice.


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is a deeply traumatic experience and may lead to fear and avoidance of sexual experiences later in life. Some women who have been victims of past abuse are afraid to trust a man; others respond to these negative experiences by losing sexual desire altogether. Counseling can be extremely valuable in helping women come to terms with the trauma and restore sexual desire. Read more about healing sexual abuse.


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