The lowdown on lust
by Celia Shatzman
If you’ve lost that frisky feeling, you’re not alone. Research shows that nearly a third of women and 15% of men lack the desire to have sex regularly. But there are things you can do to put the sizzle back into your sex life. Jumpstart your libido with these expert-approved lifestyle changes.
Plan more date nights If a fun Saturday night with your hubby means watching Showtime in sweatpants, it could be killing your sex drive. Rekindle your romance by getting out of the house for an old-fashioned date. Your dates don’t need to be grand romantic evenings; just going to the movies or out to dinner can reignite the spark you felt when you first met. “If it’s too expensive to hire a nanny, ask your friends with kids to watch yours for the night and offer to return the favor,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. Chances are, they’ll need a night out at some point too!
1. Pop a different birth control pill
Hormonal changes take a big toll on your sex drive. Birth control pills can be one of the biggest perpetrators: they can reduce your body’s production of testosterone, and in turn, your desire to get down. Certain varieties may even cause pain during sex.
2. And even if you’re not on birth control, being aware of your hormonal status can help you dial in your libido. Prolactin, the nursing hormone, decreases estrogen and testosterone in breastfeeding women, which can wreak hormonal havoc. Additionally, Dr. Millheiser warns that menopause can bring a decrease in testosterone and estradiol, a type of estrogen.
3. Check other meds, too
Take a look at your medicine cabinet—your prescriptions could be behind your lower libido. Aside from birth control pills, common offenders include drugs for high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), anxiety, and depression. “If a medication is the most likely culprit, discuss your concern with the prescribing doctor,” says Dr. Millheiser. “It’s possible that another treatment may be used with fewer side effects.”
4. Divide household chores equally
After a long day of work, you may head home for your other full-time job: being a parent. “After the kids go to bed, there’s often cleanup followed by work that you’ve brought home,” says Dr. Millheiser. “As a result, intimacy gets pushed to the background.” If you and your partner are both working full-time, keeping the division of household labor equal and ensuring one partner doesn’t shoulder the whole burden will make both of you happier in the bedroom and out.
5. Set your room up for romance
It’s easy to get in the habit of letting your kids crawl into bed with you after they’ve had a bad dream, or sharing cuddle time with your cat or dog. These are major mood killers, says Dr. Millheiser, who suggests keeping the kiddos and pets out by simply locking the bedroom door at night. It may take some time to break these habits, but making the bed sexy again will make you more relaxed and ready for romance.
6. Add sex to your to-dos
We schedule doctor’s appointments, work meetings, and drinks with friends—so why not sex? It’s not the most romantic approach, but setting aside a specific time with your significant other means you’re making a commitment to having an active sex life. This way, you’ll feel compelled to keep the appointment and be less likely to make excuses.
7. Use a lubricant
Getting in the mood can be almost impossible if sex is painful for you—but it doesn’t have to be. One of the leading causes is dryness. “If vaginal dryness is causing pain during intercourse, try using a silicone-based sexual lubricant or a vaginal moisturizer,” suggests Dr. Millheiser. “Silicone lubricants are longer-lasting and more moisturizing than the water-based alternatives. If this doesn’t improve the situation, you may want to check with a gynecologist to see if vaginal estrogen therapy is appropriate.”
De-stress before sex Everyday stressors—your job, your kids’ grades, the leaky bathroom faucet—have a more powerful effect on your sex life than you may realize. Being stressed causes your body to produce more of the “fight or flight” hormone cortisol, which your body needs in small doses but can suppresses the libido when the body produces an excess. Before you hit the sheets, find an easy way to clear your mind, whether it’s taking a long bath or curling up with a good book.
8. Eat clean
Following a heart-healthy diet could help you turn up the heat between the sheets. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found a link between high cholesterol and women who have difficulty with arousal and orgasm. When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it makes it harder for blood to flow; in the pelvic area, that can lead to less sensation in the genitals, making it harder to achieve orgasm. Slash your cholesterol levels by loading up on fruits and veggies and cutting down on animal fats and whole-milk products.
9. Eat aphrodisiacs
A growing body of research shows that certain vitamins and components can enhance sexual function and desire. Avocados, almonds, strawberries, and oysters are just a few foods that may set the mood.
10. Examine your relationship
A slow sex drive may be a sign of broader relationship problems outside the bedroom. It could be bottled-up resentment over lots of minor issues (he left his toothbrush on the counter again?) or something bigger, like a lack of communication (like too much texting and not enough actual talking, as a recent study examined). “If the relationship quality needs professional help, find a licensed marriage and family therapist in your area,” advises Dr. Millheiser. “If the relationship issue pertains only to sex, look for a certified sex therapist.”
11. Go for a hike together
Or a run, gym class, cooking seminar—any hobby or interest that you and your partner can do together, suggests Dr. Millheiser. “This can strengthen your emotional connection, and feelings of support boost desire.” In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, couples that engaged in new and exciting activities had greater satisfaction in their relationships. “New and exciting” is all relative, so depending on how adventurous you are, that could mean anything from trying out mountain biking to skydiving.
12. Exercise often
Less stress, an improved mood, and higher self-esteem are all health benefits of exercise—and together they can rev up your sex drive. In fact, a recent study found that women who were taking antidepressants and were experiencing a dulled libido (a common side effect) improved sexual satisfaction by doing three 30-minute sweat sessions per week.
13. Listen to your body
Sometimes, a slow sex drive winds up being one symptom of a larger medical problem. So if along with your low libido you begin noticing weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, and fatigue, don’t ignore it—you may be among the 15 million Americans unknowingly suffering from a thyroid problem. A simple blood test will confirm a diagnosis, and it can be treated with medication. Dr. Millheiser warns that low libido is also linked to other medical disorders, including depression and chronic fatigue.
14. No dice? Visit your doc
If your engine’s still stalled after these lifestyle tweaks, prescription drugs may help. “Certain medications, such as testosterone or Wellbutrin, can be used on an off-label basis for the treatment of low libido and are only available with a prescription,” Dr. Millheiser says.