Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/08/2021
It is completely normal for your sexual drive to wax and wane. Work stress, family obligations and significant life changes can throw your libido out of whack, but it usually bounces back.
For some men, low sex drive is chronic. Though a strong sex drive may not be medically necessary, sexual health and satisfaction is a key factor in overall happiness and quality of life for many people.
Changes in your libido, particularly a sudden or persistent decrease, can be concerning, even distressing. In some cases, it could even be a sign of an underlying health problem.
Below, we’ve provided basic information about sex drive including what it is and what causes it to change. We’ve also provided some valuable tips for talking to your healthcare provider about your concerns as well as potential treatment options.
The term libido is typically used to describe a person’s sex drive or desire for sexual activity.
Every person’s libido is different, driven by a variety of factors including hormones and brain function. It’s normal for your sex drive to fluctuate, much like your mood, but if it dips or disappears completely, it could become a point of concern and may put a strain on your relationship.
The symptoms of low libido may include the following:
Loss of sexual desire for a partner
Disinterest in masturbation
Few or non-existent sexual fantasies
Stress or concern over lost interest in sex
Low libido is not the same thing as erectile dysfunction (ED), though the two can certainly co-exist.
Much like erectile dysfunction, low libido can be related to several factors rather than having a single underlying cause. Identifying those factors is the key to treating this common concern.
Libido tends to gradually decrease with age, but a sudden change in sex drive can be concerning.
Loss of interest in sex could cause strain in your relationship and could impact your quality of life.
Low sex drive isn’t always accompanied by loss of sexual function which can make it tricky to pin down the cause.
In many cases, psychological factors are the primary cause but, for some men, low sex drive is related to medication, lifestyle choices or underlying medical conditions.
Testosterone is an essential male hormone produced primarily in the testes. It plays a role in building muscle and bone mass and stimulates sperm production.
Normal testosterone levels vary.
Though men don’t go through menopause like women, testosterone production naturally decreases with age.
When a man’s testosterone levels drop below 300 ng/dL it is considered low. Low T can have a significant impact on your sex drive, so you may want to have your testosterone tested.
Aside from low sex drive, other signs of low T in men include difficult achieving or maintaining an erection, low semen volume, hair loss, decreased bone and muscle mass and increased body fat.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States.
Common symptoms include low mood, trouble sleeping, poor concentration and loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, including sex.
If you suffer from depression and have experienced a decrease in your sex drive, it may not be a symptom of your depression, but a side effect of your antidepressants.
Certain antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), have low libido as a listed side effect.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your low libido if you’re taking antidepressants to discuss the possibility of adjusting your dosage or switching to another medication.
When you’re overwhelmed with stress, you may not have much of a desire for sex.
Aside from the anxiety and worry that can result from stress, it can also affect the production of sex hormones which could impact your libido.
The male reproductive system is heavily influenced by the nervous system.
Stress triggers the body’s production of cortisol, a hormone that helps regulate several essential bodily functions, but excessive amounts can negatively affect the male reproductive system.
When you are stressed for an extended period of time, cortisol levels stay high which can reduce testosterone production as well as your sex drive.
Stress is nearly impossible to avoid but there are plenty of stress management techniques you can try to lower your stress level, manage your hormone levels and hopefully boost your libido.
Breathing exercises, meditation and talk therapy can all help you lower stress.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, waking with a dry mouth, difficulty staying asleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.
There are three primary types of sleep apnea:
Serious sleep disorders like sleep apnea can limit the quality of your sleep which, aside from daytime sleepiness, can have a significant impact on your health.
Lack of sleep can cause reduced testosterone production which can reduce your sex drive.
A 2018 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine showed that men with untreated obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to suffer from low libido.
The study also revealed that older age and depressed mood were key contributing factors for low libido in middle-aged men with sleep apnea.
Another study was designed to mimic the sleep fragmentation caused by obstructive sleep apnea to measure the resulting reduction in testosterone production.
In this 2015 study, healthy young men were subjected to a week of sleep restriction. Total sleep time for the participants was reduced from eight hours 55 minutes to four hours 48 minutes, a total loss of about two hours and 45 minutes per night on average.
During waking hours, the participants exhibited lower testosterone levels after the sleep restriction — 16.5 nmol/L versus 18.4 nmol/L.
Stress takes many forms and sometimes you don’t even realize the toll it is taking on your mental health and overall wellness. Relationship problems are a unique form of stress that can affect your libido.
When you experience a significant decline in sex drive, it’s important to ask yourself some important questions about your relationship:
Are you still happy with your partner? Do you have any worries or doubts that could be contributing to the issue? Do you have any unresolved conflict or do you frequently argue with your partner?
It may also be the case that your sexual attraction to your partner has waned.
Emotions and attraction fluctuate over the course of a long-term relationship, but don’t be afraid to ask yourself some difficult questions to get at the underlying cause of your recent sexual dysfunction.
Taking certain medications can lower your body’s testosterone levels which could impact your libido.
Blood pressure medications like beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors have been linked to sexual dysfunction and corticosteroids, opioids and certain antidepressants have been known to lower testosterone levels.
Here is an overview of some of the medications that can lower libido:
Blood pressure drugs (like beta-blockers)
Chemotherapy and radiation treatments
Certain antidepressants (like SSRIs and SNRIs)
Opioid pain relievers (like morphine and oxycodone)
Corticosteroids and anabolic steroids
Certain antifungal medications
Hormonal medications may also trigger changes in your libido.
This can be an issue for women taking hormonal contraception, but for men can occur with hormones used to treat prostate cancer.
When you aren’t feeling well, sexual activity probably isn’t something you’re particularly interested in.
If you have a chronic illness, you may experience pain or other debilitating symptoms on a daily basis as well which further reduce your desire for sex.
Men’s health conditions that can reduce libido may include:
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
Liver and kidney problems
Chronic heart failure
Keep in mind as well that certain medications that are used to treat chronic illness can cause low libido as a side effect.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns and to discuss the possibility that your treatment is negatively affecting your sex life.
Drug use and excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to decreased testosterone production and lowered libido.
Heavy drinking (defined as more than three to four units per day, for men) can lower testosterone production.
Drugs like marijuana and narcotics can have a similar effect and may also impact the quality of sperm.
It could also be the case that concurrent sexual problems have made sex difficult or unfulfilling, leading to a decrease in libido.
If you struggle with erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or other sexual problems, talk to your healthcare provider to identify and treat the underlying cause.
If you’re concerned about your low libido, the best thing you can do is talk to a healthcare professional.
Your healthcare provider will be able to help determine the underlying cause of your decreased libido and discuss with you the treatment options.
To prepare for your appointment, compile an updated list of any medications you may be taking and make note of any additional symptoms.
Think back to when you first noticed the decrease in your libido and be prepared to talk about how it has impacted you.
It may even help to do a little research of your own about potential treatments, so you understand the options when your healthcare provider presents them.
It’s important to remember there may not be a singular cause for your low libido. That being said, there are several things you can try that may help.
Making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle could help. When you feel well, you’re more likely to experience healthy sexual interest.
Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction and may boost your mood and your energy levels as well.
If you suspect your loss of libido is a side effect of medication, talk to your healthcare provider about changing or adjusting your medication.
In some cases, the opposite may be more beneficial. If you’re struggling with depression and it’s affected your libido, starting antidepressants could help.
For men with low T, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) could be an option.
Keep in mind, however, that the long-term adverse effects of TRT are unknown and there is some concern that it may lead to a higher risk for cardiovascular problems.
Also known as androgen replacement therapy, TRT can be administered as an oral medication, intramuscular injection or transdermal patch.
Hormone replacement therapy is typically used to treat hypogonadism but may also help balance low testosterone levels caused by infection, radiation therapy, genetic disorders and autoimmune conditions.
In addition to talking to your healthcare provider and trying one of the options mentioned above, talk to your partner about your concerns.
Open and honest communication is the foundation for a strong relationship and if you don’t talk about your concerns it could lead to relationship problems.
As a man, a decrease in your sex drive can be unsettling. Low libido can lead to an array of mental and physical side effects that could impact your relationship as well as your own self-esteem.
If you have concerns about changes in your sex drive, talk to your healthcare provider to learn more about the possible causes and potential treatment options.
In the meantime, consider making some healthy lifestyle changes to boost your mood, your energy and potentially your sex drive.
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