Sexual function is an important part of a person’s health and well being; studies suggest that gay men suffer from erectile dysfunction more so than heterosexual men. In addition to this, it is reported that low libido can affect up to one in five men.
Therefore it is relevant that we look at libido, and how we can improve our overall sexual function. In this article you will learn more about the following areas regarding libido:
- What’s libido?
- Factors affecting male libido
- Importance of libido
- Men are always up for it, aren’t they?
- 5 ways to increase your libido
- Take home
What is Libido?
Naturally, when we think of libido, we think of arousal and sexual desire. In short, this is correct. However, there is more to libido; it’s meaning, importance and how we can improve it. So, what’s the theory and science behind libido?
While there are differing meanings behind libido, the most common use of the term is to describe sexual drive for sexual activity. It’s what instigates arousal and, in its most base form, the procreation of our species.
Yet, libido has also been described more eloquently as, “…the energy of the sexual drive as a component of the life instinct…” according to the Oxford Dictionary whereby it stems from Latin to mean ‘lust’.
But where does lust stem from?
Factors Affecting Libido
Our overall sex drive and measure of ‘lust’ is said to be dependent on many factors.
The predominant three include:
Although there are additional factors that we must consider which can have an influence on libido such as:
- Medical conditions
- Age/sexual development
Let’s start with the core three and explain a little more about them and how they can influence your libido.
This refers to hormonal changes and levels. For men, the prominent sex hormone is testosterone. While testosterone isn’t the only acting hormone, it is known from research that low testosterone does reduce male libido.
Furthermore, estradiol, which is a predominant form of estrogen also has a role in male sexual function. There is evidence which demonstrates that this hormone can also contribute to libido, erectile function, and sperm health. It has been discovered that estrogen receptors are found in all of the areas that relate to sexual function such as the brain, testis, and penis plus other organs.
However, too much estradiol has been linked to erectile dysfunction. While high levels of estrogen and low levels of testosterone are both responsible for erectile dysfunction, clinical research suggests there is a fine balance required to achieve normal sexual function.
It was Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, who first hypothesized that libido signified “…instinctual physiological or psychic energy associated with sexual urges and…all constructive human activity….” Libido has also been described as the ‘life instinct’ and ‘drive’. Of course, without libido, and that sexual desire, procreation of our species may be halted or diminished.
So, where does psychology fit in with libido?
The psychology behind libido is subjective, as such, research into the subject is analyzed through the use of questionnaires. Evidence shows that male sexual desire can be influenced and affected by factors such as erotic thoughts, fear, a desire to have a baby and depression or fatigue. Further study reveals that other factors include anxiety, emotions, communications, attraction, satisfaction, and distress.
Additional results also showed that there were other social or cultural influences such as sexual beliefs and sexually conservative attitudes notwithstanding negative automatic thoughts. It is said that these factors can be influenced by peers, the media and parents according to the Electronic Physician Journal.
Parents tend to have an initial impact on sexuality by teaching them consciously or unconsciously about love, partnerships, and kindness. Yet, it is reported that the main source of sexual learning is often from their peers. Whether this is the best source of information is to be debated.
Then there is the exposure to media. It is often said that the contemporary media environment harms sexuality, be it the way sexuality is projected in films, songs or music videos. While there appears to be a connection, at present, there is no direct correlation, yet current findings do appear to warrant further investigation. Before we move on let’s also take a look at some of the other factors, that may affect your sexual function.
Unfortunately, in many cases, we cannot control the medical illnesses that we experience, or whether we have to undergo surgery. Here are some of the chronic illnesses that have been identified by the UK’s National Health Service that can negatively affect your sex drive:
- Underactive thyroid
- Heart disease
With illness and disease come medications, which can also result in a decreased sex drive.
Many medications are prescribed to reduce the impact of illness or disease that can harm your libido. The National Prescription Service of Australia state that five main drug types can reduce libido and sexual function.
These are classified as:
- Cancer treatments
- Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia/Urinary Tract
Additional drugs have been identified to include steroids, immunosuppressives, antihistamines, opioids, pseudoephedrine and protease inhibitors.
Your current lifestyle can have a major impact on your sexual function. Alcohol and recreational drugs, including tobacco, may impact your libido and overall sexual health. Furthermore, being overweight, eating a poor diet or leading a sedentary lifestyle have all been identified as problematic for sexual function.
The International Society for Sexual Medicine does widely accept that libido decreases with age. On the flip side, it has been observed that men have a higher libido when they go through puberty, particularly those who start puberty earlier and carry on into their 20’s.
Importance of Libido
While there is no ‘normal’ libido level, a lack of sexual desire which you may find is causing an issue that could be the sign of low libido. It has been stated that sexual well-being is an important aspect of sexual health and that it is one of the most important factors of a person’s sex life.
Furthermore, as we have already mentioned, low libido could be the result of illness or disease, that could be yet to be diagnosed. Additional research shows that people may only acknowledge and accept a reduction in their libido upon the complaint of a partner. This could potentially fracture or pressure a relationship that may already be under strain.
While a positive sex drive is not an essential trait for life, it is important for a person’s overall quality of life as observed by the UCSF Department of Urology. Reduced libido may cause personal distress, particularly if they were once highly sexually active.
Comments from Professor Juan Carlos Sierra Freire at the University of Granada stipulate that a healthy attitude towards sexuality can make intercourse more pleasurable while reducing the risk of sexual complications.
Men are always up for it, aren’t they?
The popular misconception is that men are sex-obsessed, and while sexual desire is typically higher in men than in women, with testosterone being the key player, statistics paint an alternative picture.
It is important to note that while testosterone is an important factor regarding sexual function the University of Wisconsin tells us that almost 39% of men 45 years old and above suffer from low testosterone. Furthermore, research from Ohio State University suggests that men do not think about sex constantly throughout the day as previously thought.
This study published in 2011 involved 283 men and women between the age of 18 and 25. The results were far from the popular theory that men think about sex every 7 seconds. Men think about sex 19 times per day on average closely followed by thoughts of food 18 times over a day.
While these figures are higher than women, it does demonstrate that sex isn’t the be-all and end-all of a man’s thoughts, particularly as thoughts of food and even sleep are closely followed.
5 Ways to Improve Libido
We have already mentioned some of the reasons that may kill your libido, however, in some cases, they are unavoidable, particularly if you are suffering from a disease or having to take certain medications.
However, what we can do is look at the methods to improve libido that can be controlled by yourself and contribute to a stronger sex drive.
1. Libido and Exercise
Not only do you want to feel more desire and lust for your partner, but you also need to have the stamina required to satisfy. Besides, being overweight or obese has been proven to reduce libido.
Leading a healthy regime of exercise is important for numerous health benefits. However, there is a balance to be had. Reports from the Department of Exercise and Sports Science, University of North Carolina state that high levels of extremely long duration of endurance exercises are highly related to a decreased libido in men.
So what’s ideal?
Running ultra-marathons every day is probably not going to help, but a varied exercise program incorporating resistance and non-extreme bouts of cardiovascular exercise will.
A study published in 2018 explicitly connects exercise which targets the reduction of fat mass and improving cardiorespiratory fitness with increasing testosterone levels as a way to help reduce erectile dysfunction. For example, a 12 week HIIT program yielded positive results to increase testosterone levels.
It may not come as a surprise to learn that sleep is vital for good health. Yet it is reported that up to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. It is recommended that adults require 7 – 8 hours of sleep per day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is evidence that shows those who have trouble sleeping, or have disturbed sleep also suffer from low libido, particularly untreated issues such as obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.
Additionally, it is also recognized that disrupted sleep and insufficient sleep contributes to reduced sexual function, and it is considered that many patients with erectile dysfunction are also suffering from a sleep disorder.
As we know, testosterone has an important role to play in regards to overall sexual function. This is further confirmed by a published study from the Journal of the American Medical Association which connects a lack of sleep with a drastic reduction of testosterone.
By sleeping just 5 hours per day reduced their testosterone levels by up to 15%. This was also coupled with a reduced sense of well-being and vigor.
3. Reduce Alcohol Use
Alcohol is one of the most used substances. While it can affect people in different ways, it is commonly used as a way to relax, reduce inhibitions and ultimately increase confidence. However, it can also be a depressant.
High consumption of alcohol can be harmful, it is reported in England that 21% of people 16 or over drink more than the recommended 14 units of alcohol per week. The consumption of alcohol also contributed to 337,870 hospital admissions alone in 2017/2018 which has also led to 5,843 alcohol-specific deaths. Worryingly, this is an increase of 16% from 2007.
Furthermore, there is a common theme between alcohol dependency and sexual dysfunction. One of the most common factors being low sexual desire. It is theorized that the effect of sexual dysfunction is due to alcohol being a depressant.
Another key point is that increased alcohol consumption can reduce testosterone levels further exacerbating the issue. Professor Gary Wittert from the University of Adelaide in Australia comments that high alcohol consumption contributes towards sexual dysfunction. Yet, many men are now able to overcome matters such as erectile dysfunction by modifying their lifestyle.
Nutrition is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy and free of disease contributes to our overall sense of well-being and is a major positive influence on our lives.
Eating the correct foods and utilizing key nutrients can help reduce chronic diseases such as cancers while reducing premature mortality in addition to lowering the financial impact of medical care.
A well-balanced diet can also contribute to positive sexual function. It is reported that aphrodisiacs and methods to increase sexual desire and function date back millennia. Some nutrients such as fenugreek are considered to be an aphrodisiac because there is scientific evidence demonstrating an increased libido.
Additionally, fenugreek is also proven to help improve overall body composition and contribute to increased testosterone production. However, some other foods such as soy have demonstrated a negative effect on testosterone levels and have been associated with erectile dysfunction.
Many factors can place a strain on relationships, and low libido isn’t any different. However, it could be your relationship that is the root cause of your libido issue. If you are no longer happy in your relationship. You may have doubts or concerns that can put you off your partner.
Being in a relationship over a long period can lead to staleness and over-familiarity that breeds a level of sexual dissatisfaction or simply a lack of sexual desire for that person if you no longer find them attractive.
You may have external problems that are causing tension and arguments which can breed contempt when combined with poor communication it will have a negative impact. One course of action is to stimulate conversation and communication amongst yourselves.
The Victoria State Government of Australia’s Better Health Channel recommends that people suffering from low libido should learn how to be intimate with their partner without having sex. They suggest learning different sexual techniques, discuss fantasies, desires, and strategies such as masturbation.
The Take Home
There are many reasons why you may be suffering from low libido. Sure there some cases where it is an unwanted side effect of an illness or vital medication, in fact, low libido could be due to an underlying health issue that has yet to be diagnosed.
However, in many cases, low libido can be due to many lifestyle habits that you can make amends to. There’s lots of evidence that low libido can be resolved or improved with a change in lifestyle which includes more exercise, better nutrition, communication, adequate rest and reduced alcohol consumption.