Where did my sex drive go?

Hi Cyndi,
I am 23 years old and I’m facing a difficult moment sexually because I have lost my libido. I have no interest in sex and the worst is that I don’t enjoy it anymore. What are some ways I can get my libido back? (Ps: I’ve been on the pill for a couple years now and my libido has decreased gradually since I started being sexually active)
Thanks
Elaine

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Dear Elaine
Libido and desire are two words often associated with cis-women’s sexuality. Low desire has been a hot topic in the media for years, but not a lot of useful discussion about what it is and what its roots are. While in some cases there are a few pharmacological / medical treatments for ‘’low desire’’, aka low libido such as testosterone replacement or other kinds of hormone therapies, they are not always the best nor the most relevant option. And there is no guarantee that they will actually work.

Normal

Women (and men) of all ages and orientations experience shifts in their levels of desire. This is normal. It’s not unusual for many life factors including stress, relationship problems, the pill, time management and family issues to affect the way we experience sexuality. Changes in libido are natural and to be expected. But when desire wanes for an extended period of time (and that is to be defined by the person themselves, not a statistic) it may be time to inquire further to explore what issues might need to be addressed.

Misinformation

For many people, the absence of opportunities to discuss sex, pleasure and what we actually enjoy is at the root of ongoing desire issues. Pressure to perform and have ‘a lot’ of sex can sometimes be part of the problem. Many people confuse the frequency of sex (how much or how often) with the quality of sex (how satisfying or how good… including orgasm). Having a lot of sex doesn’t necessarily mean it will be good, and sometimes ‘doing it’ is just meeting a criteria of what’s expected, rather than what is desired. When our experiences and our expectations of sex don’t match, it’s easy for us to internalize this problem and think that we are the ones with the problem rather than the problem being a problem itself! For example, having sex 3 times a week isn’t going to be especially useful if we dread those 3 times or the kind of sex that we are having hurts, is boring or is just not the kind we like. It’s also important that we reflect on what we mean when we say ‘sex’. For many people it means ‘penis-in-vagina’ [PIV] sex, but for a lot of cis-women this is not especially exciting nor pleasurable. It’s a default for many with little or no reflection on why this may be so. Because few of us have had truly useful sex education, and as a result only know about sex as PIV rather than sex that is pleasure focused for everyone, the pressure to perform PIV sex between partners can lead to a lack of desire. The truth in some cases is the lack of desire is a lack of desire for PIV, but other kinds of sex might still be desirable (e.g oral, using hands / toys etc) yet we are unaware or afraid to discuss it for fear of seeming ‘abnormal’. The truth is for a lot (an estimated 70-90%) of cis-women, PIV is just not what turns them on, but standard sex education simply never addresses this!

Contraception

While the pill and all other hormonal-based contraceptives can and do have an effect of decreasing libido, for some cis-women it’s  a necessary part of adult life and one they are not willing to give up. Fair enough. Bear in mind there are other non-hormone based alternatives to contraception, namely internal/female & regular condoms; which will protect you from pregnancy and STIs, but require a different approach to PIV than without them. It might be worth deciding which of these options is less intrusive for you. It can be helpful to reflect on the kind of sex you’re having and what it means to you to do so. Sometimes cis-women will engage in PIV because their cis-male partner wants or expects it without realizing it’s not what turns her on.  The expectation of it as ‘real sex’ can mean there is little wiggle room for discussing pleasure. It can be helpful to consider what the point of PIV is, (or doing anything sexually for that matter), if there is no or little purpose or point in it for you. Feeling free to discuss your sexual motivations can be a good way to change the script of sex that is feeling stuck or unsatisfying. In doing so you may free up your dependence on hormonal contraceptives if your sex practices change or become less PIV-centric.

Learn

Chances are, sex is not something you learnt much about at school or at home, so unless you have actively sought information, it’s likely you’re running on bare minimum. One of the best ways to change this is to make time learning about sex, pleasure, communication and the body in ways that are more relevant that what you learnt in high school.

Like with any skill that needs to be cultivated; prowess and enthusiasm come with focus and practice. We think nothing of learning to paint, play guitar or speak a new language by learning from those more knowledgeable than ourselves. There is no shame or stigma in signing up for a watercolor, Flamenco or Vietnamese class, but we feel paralyzed by the declaration of attending a sex class or seeing a coach or therapist for individual guidance. If we allowed ourselves the same freedom to learn about sex as we learn art, music or language, we may experience ourselves feeling infinitely less burdened. While some may have a natural affinity for creative pursuits or sports, these skills are honed and developed by study and practice. The same is true with sex.  In the beginning it may feel a little clunky and awkward but with time it can feel easier and more relevant to your skills, interests and experiences.

Therapists, coaches and educators run a variety of classes and workshops online and in person these days to people of all genders to address the education gap in sex-ed. You are not alone in what you’re feeling and I urge to you to know there are ways and means to help you feel that connection to your sexuality again (or for the first time), and perhaps more deeply than before.

It won’t require endless interventions, but it will require some enthusiasm and commitment from you. Sex is one of the most fabulous sources of pleasure available to us. It would be unfortunate to let a lack of information stand in your way of accessing this potent source of well-being and freedom.