Your physical health is a major factor in your libido.
This can include more everyday factors such as your menstrual cycle, hygiene, nutrition and contraception, or other issues such as health conditions, medication side effects or the result of a recent life change.
However, this can be one of the more difficult categories to address simply because our physical health is sometimes out of our control, and we might need outside medical advice or intervention to assist.
*Note: please do consult your GP or sexual health clinic if you are experiencing issues with your physical health and your sex drive. I am not a medical professional so do take any resources or advice given here with a pinch of salt. Not literally either.*
Read on to discover the five main ways your physical health can shape your experience of desire, and links to the best resources or techniques that can help if your physical health is deflating your libido….
Note: the aim of this section isn’t to give an indefinite overview of all physical health conditions that can impact on desire. You know your body best and can decide this for yourself. However, the below may give you some insight and help you start to pinpoint what’s having a detrimental effect on your libido.
Influence of hormones:
Although a definitive link hasn’t been established between the role of hormones and how they impact on desire, it’s commonly thought that the levels of both are closely tied. Factors that can influence our level of hormones include:
Menstruation/Periods: these can have a HUGE impact on how horny you feel over your cycle because of the rise and fall of different hormones. The BEST resource on this is Maisie Hill’s “Period Power” book which will walk you through how hormones influence desire (and essentially our whole lives!). In a nutshell, we’re more likely to want sex from days 8-14 of our monthly cycle (week two basically, just after our periods). BUT, we’re also less likely to want sex during week three (the build up to your period). To find out whether this is true for you, tracking your periods can help you understand more about yourself and your own patterns and rhythms. Using this knowledge means you can begin to plan your sex life a little better, be kinder to yourself, and not feel bad if your desire goes up and down over time. Also, different physical responses to menstruation (e.g. PMT/S, PMDD) can also mean heavy, painful periods so we physically feel we can’t have sex- or just really don’t want to!
Contraceptives: Contraceptives in general can play havoc with our hormones, and deserve a special category by themselves.
Breast-feeding: this could be the hormones evoked from breastfeeding, or simply just being overstimulated by touch and wanting to be left alone. Here’s a link to a great article on The Cut about how breastfeeding can kill your libido.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
Over or under-active thyroid
Medication: many people talk about the side effects of certain medications diminishing their desire. This is commonly linked to anti-depressants, cold medicines (containing anti-histamines), blood pressure tablets, chemotherapy treatments (which often have a “dulling” effect on arousal) or anti-nausea medication. This is a really great article on Buzzfeed with some really useful insights and advice on the interplay between depression and medication on libido as well as how to improve it, or check out our post on depression and desire for more. Cancer Research UK has a short article on low libido and cancer effects/treatment. However I really liked this informative article by Cure Today which talks about libido as a recipe with many ingredients which acknowledges both emotional and physical side effects of diagnosis, treatment and aftercare.
How diet affects your sex drive is a complex issue. There are tons of articles about food and libido out there- apparently eating anything from broccoli to drinking “sex coffee” can help you boost your libido. There’s also a relationship between how food affects your body, and therefore your perception of yourself and how you feel. Click below to find out more.
Most of the advice around food and your libido seems to fall into two categories:
1. “Foods as an instant sex drive booster”- these are things like aphrodisiacs (oysters, chocolate etc) or eating particular foods that promote blood flow to your nether-regions. There are a few particular foods that scientists across the board claim are really beneficial for a good sex drive- including blackberries, figs, watermelon, broccoli along with assorted aphrodisiacs– and others that aren’t so good- mint, cheese, sugar, coffee, alcohol.
2. Or, the longer term diets scientists recommend you should follow that boost your sex drive (but more often your general health). From a quick google search, many diets appear to promise libido-boosting results. In particular, those that involve low carbohydrate consumption (e.g. the keto diet) or those that are generally seen as a very healthy all-round diet (e.g. the Mediterranean diet).
Although these may work for some, the scientific evidence seems to vary so always listen to your own body as to what works for you and consider how the food you’re eating is fuelling you overall. Although we’re not nutritionists we believe taking a general look at the foods you eat on a regular basis is the best place to start to really figure out what your body needs to feel happy and healthy. This involves looking at:
- the foods you eat
- how much you eat
- and how often you eat them.
For example, ask yourself- how are my energy levels? Some research points to the link between low energy/fatigue and a low libido. So is there anything in your diet could be causing you to feel tired and/or lethargic? This might include:
- Fast food
- Lots of sugars
- A diet high in carbohydrates (white bread, pasta etc)
Am I eating enough or too much? Overeating can cause a huge energy slump. Not eating enough or at frequent enough intervals might also mean our blood pressure drips, causing fatigue or anxiety.
How am I feeling after I eat? A major libido killer to watch out for is bloating. Bloating leaves us feeling uncomfortable, unsexy and often lacking in energy. All three are sure fire ways to diminish desire! Different foods can also make individuals bloat- e.g. allergies or intolerances, therefore knowing yourself and your own body is key to knowing what food nourishes you (and in turn, your libido).
The other thing to be aware of is how food impacts on your mental health. For example, for some people drinking coffee can bring certain benefits (including a high sex drive!). But for others coffee causes them to have anxious thoughts, which switches off desire quicker than losing a toupee in a hurricane.
Instead of preaching about what we should eat (we all know the logistics of eating healthy, right?) it’s about you reflecting on how your current diet leaves you feeling, and what changes YOU think you need to make.
In addition to looking at your diet, tuning in to the signs of your arousal might mean you become more aware of the impact certain foods have upon your body. Check out our guide to staying present during sex to learn more.
There’s a great book called “The Goddess Revolution” which really helped me to understand the difference between cravings and hunger and how to listen to my body and what it needs which I’d really recommend! This is also a fab article about libido and gut health which recommends a more sustainable solution than chomping on some broccoli to boost your libido.
Pain/discomfort during sex:
Any pain or discomfort experienced during penetrative sex is a no-brainer as to why it shuts down your sex drive. Because if sex isn’t pleasurable, it’s not wonder you don’t want it!
You might experience pain during any kind of penetration because it’s harder to get aroused and therefore naturally lubricated. Physical changes may have taken place meaning penetrative sex is more difficult or uncomfortable. This might be because of:
- An infection, such as thrush or cystitis
- the menopause
- physical trauma, e.g. after childbirth, surgery, sexual assault, scars
- a termination or miscarriage
- conditions such as endometriosis, vulvodynia, vaginismus, which mean penetration and/or touch can be painful
- conditions such as arthritis, where the movement or activity is painful
- as a result of medications or treatments (e.g. chemotherapy)
Check out the section on why the quality of the sex you are (or were) having is shutting down your desire to find out more.
Changes in appearance:
This is an important category, and could relate to your general appearance or a more specific area of your body. You could feel unattractive, undesirable, or just learning how to live with a different body or a “new normal”. It’s heavily tied to body confidence and self-esteem so do check out that area too if you think this is having an effect on your desire. Just some of the many changes in appearance could be down to:
STI/STDs: the appearance of symptoms could make you feel self-conscious
Weight gain or loss: this could be a sudden or more gradual change, or linked to something like pregnancy or illness. Weight gain is often cited as the reason for a low libido in many resources you’ll find online. However it’s important to raise the distinction that just because a woman may have put on weight, or is a larger size than she used to be, this doesn’t correlate with a low sex drive! Rather, it’s about her perception of the weight gain. If she’s happy at this size- amazing! And there’s no reason for her sex drive to decrease. However, if she’s unhappy and her body confidence has fallen, THIS is the problem, not her dress size. Here’s an amazing article from The Sexperts Lounge stating just this. If this is you, I’d encourage you to check out the section of the site on body confidence to find out more about how you can love your body whatever size you are.
The result of surgery: for example, removal of sexual organs in a hysterectomy or mastectomy, learning to live with a colostomy bag
As a result of scarring
Although there are many things that can take away our desire for sex, not feeling clean is one that we don’t talk about often. We all have certain conditions that help us get in to the mood for sex (see The Art of Sexual Self-Empowerment to discover yours) and not washing can have a big impact on desire to have sex if you’re someone who only feels sexy when you’re clean.
If you are, you might recognize the feeling when your partner comes home and you avoid their advances like the plague simply because you’re not feeling fresh. More often than simple CBA-ness, its at times hard to take care of ourselves because we might have a lack of time, be busy/stressed, feel depressed or unwell, or be experiencing low self-esteem and not feel we deserve to look good. Poor personal hygiene is often linked with self-neglect and low self-esteem. If we don’t feel good within ourselves, we’re less likely to want to look good on the outside. And these can all have a negative impact on our libido. This is about washing yourself enough so that you feel presentable. Confident. Sexy, even.
For other, it’s being in a long-term relationship and “forgetting” to keep ourselves as fragrant as we should. We get comfortable, try a little (or a lot) less, and we might even get a little loose with our daily showers too (!). This can be part of taking each other for granted in a relationship and a lack of desire to present ourselves as attractive as we’ve already “bagged” our partner.
If your partner comes a-calling and you’re feeling more dirty than flirty, you’re more likely to avoid their advances for two reasons:
- Being self-conscious: this is a really gendered issue because so many women are worried about how we smell, whether we’re fresh downstairs, what the hair situation is, what we look like, if our partners will judge us, and this anxiety discourages us from wanting sex because we struggle to stay present.
- Effort: Or, it’s the energy it takes to get ourselves ready for sex- sometimes, if you know you need to get washed, dressed, wax and pluck and shave (optional) and all the rest, can you really be bothered to do ALL of that and THEN have sex? It’s effort! Especially if you’re knackered.
To help with this issue, check out our new course The Art of Sexual Self-Empowerment for more.
Have you found any useful resources or have any great tips on physical health and desire?
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