So your sex drive’s gone MIA. First thing’s first-don’t freak out. Dry spells are totally normal, especially if you’ve been with the same person for a long time. In fact, up to 43 percent of women experience low sexual desire, while roughly 10 percent deal with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSSD), or a lack of interest in sex, according to a 2013 review of research.
But even though it’s common, a missing libido can be super frustrating-especially when you’re trying to figure out how to get it back. The process can be really difficult, since there are so many factors that play a role in why it took off in the first place, says gynaecologist Dr Mary Jane Minkin.
Some common culprits: you just went through a major life change (like starting a new job or moving to a different city), started a new medication, or have an underlying medical condition stalling your sex drive.
It’s important to note that having a low libido isn’t always an issue. If you and your partner are totally fine with fewer romps, then there’s really no need to worry. But if you’re on a seemingly endless hunt for “the mood” and it’s starting to mess with your relationship and personal happiness, there are several science-backed strategies that can help. Ready to heat things up again? Here are eight things you can do to boost your sex drive.
Be more mindful
Experts theorise that sexual desire could boil down to a balance in brain chemicals. There are some neurochemicals that get you amped up for sex, like dopamine, oxytocin, and norepinephrine, says women's health specialist Dr Stephanie S. Faubion. Then there are others, like opioids and serotonin, that can get in the way and inhibit your excitement.
That’s where mindfulness exercises-like focused breathing or meditation-come in. “Being more mindful might alter the balance of brain chemicals in a good way,” Dr Faubion says. A recent review of research found that mindfulness-based therapy worked to improve sexual function in women. The practice also aids in reducing stress hormones, which are known to sink your libido.
"Sex isn’t just about desire. It’s about body image, self-esteem, and confidence."
Try 15 to 20 minutes of meditation a day to start. In the heat of the moment, try syncing your breathing with your partner’s or focusing on what they smell like, suggests gynaecologist Dr Leah Millheiser. “This brings you back to the room instead of going through the motions while your brain is somewhere else.”
Take your time with foreplay
Most people dive right into sex, but 15 to 20 minutes of foreplay is crucial for building desire, says sex therapist Dr Stephanie Buehler.
Once you spend some time kissing and touching, your desire will spike both emotionally and physically. You’ll not only feel more connected to your partner, but your vagina will also produce enough lubrication to make sex feel more pleasurable and enjoyable. That’s obviously never a bad thing, and boosts your chances of wanting to do it again.
Get to know your body
Here’s a question you may have never been asked: Could you pick out your own clitoris if you saw it in real life? “Many women are out of touch with their own sexuality,” notes Buehler. “That means that they may not connect with sexual feelings or urges.”
The fix? Grab a hand mirror and check yourself out. It’s actually something Dr Faubion often does with her own patients. “You’d be surprised at how many women have never looked [at their own bodies] or it’s been decades,” she says.
Familiarising yourself with your anatomy can help you get in tune with your sexuality, Buehler notes. That’s why flying solo can lend a helping hand to your libido. Vibrators, which half of women have tried, and other sex toys are a great way to explore what you want and need sexually. Masturbating can lead to more sexual fantasies, boost arousal, and help you reach orgasm faster, according to a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.
Stick to a workout routine
You know that amazing rush you feel after an awesome workout? Well, those changes in your body (better cardiovascular health and blood flow) and brain (an uptick in feel-good neurotransmitters) play a role in maintaining a healthy sex life, research suggests.
“All of those things lend themselves to a woman wanting to engage in sexual activity because she feels good about herself,” says Dr Millheiser. “Sex isn’t just about desire. It’s about body image, self-esteem, and confidence-and exercise boosts all of those.”
Schedule some alone time with your partner
Good sex should be spontaneous and just happen, right? Not always. “For women, one of the key drivers is emotional intimacy,” says Dr. Faubion.
That’s because sex isn’t just about pushing the right buttons physically-you have to feel turned on mentally, too, research suggests. If you feel emotionally close to your partner, you’re much more likely to want sex. One way to do that? Schedule a weekly date night.
You have to prioritise sex, too. Pick a day of the week or have a cue that only you two know means sex (something like: “I think we need to go out to eat”). The more this intimacy becomes part of your routine, the better. It helps physically, too. If you make an active effort to schedule time for sex, you’ll also boost pelvic blood flow and vaginal moisture, which gives way to increased comfort and (hopefully) pleasure, notes Dr Faubion.
Talk about sex
Communication, in general, is tough. Communication about sex? Even tougher. “People have difficulty saying what they like, how they want to be approached, and when they want to be approached,” says Buehler. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask, so open up the convo by discussing sex outside of the bedroom.
Questions like, Why do people have sex?, Why do people stop having sex?, Why was 50 Shades of Grey so popular? can provide insight into how your partner is thinking and allows you to express your thoughts. As you become more comfortable with the topic, these conversations will eventually give way to more intimate topics like, What do you enjoy?, says Buehler. This talk should be a two-way street, so you can both gain an understanding of what works-and what doesn’t-in the bedroom.
Make an appointment with your doctor
To get to the root of the problem, a full check-up with your doctor can help ensure an underlying condition (a sleep disorder), medication (an antidepressant), or a physical complication (post-pregnancy) isn’t to blame for your lacking libido. After all, both physical and mental conditions can impact your sex drive.
Vascular issues such as heart disease and diabetes obstruct blood flow all over your body (including down there) and endocrine disorders such as thyroid dysfunction can sink levels of estrogen and testosterone, squashing libido, says Dr Minkin. Neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis can also negatively impact vulvar sensation and blood flow.
Anxiety and depression? Those play a huge role, too. While depression saps energy and alters brain chemicals that could inhibit sex, anxiety floods your system with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. “Sexual functioning, in the context of uncontrolled anxiety, just doesn’t work,” says Dr. Faubion.
And while antidepressants-which pump serotonin into the brain-can sink your desire, untreated depression can actually make things worse, Dr. Faubion notes. It might take a few months of trial and error to find an antidepressant that works for you, but if you think antidepressants are impacting your sex drive, let your doc know, as that can help steer treatment. Therapy and exercise are also beneficial. One 2013 study found that working out for just 20 minutes improved genital arousal problems related to antidepressant use.
Consult a sex therapist
Even if you’re not depressed or anxious, it might be a good idea to see a sex therapist if your low libido is truly bothering you and your partner.
What your family taught you about sex, your religion, or your feelings surrounding aging and sex can all play a role in the way you view sex-and get in the way of enjoying it, says Dr Faubion.
A therapist can help reconnect you with your own desires and feelings about intimacy. Working with a pro can also help you learn how to better communicate with your partner about sex, so you can navigate the issue together, whether the underlying cause is emotional or physical.