It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, people.
There are a lot of societal beliefs and expectations surrounding libido, such as how often people should be having sex and how often they should want to have sex.
Libido, or sex drive, plays an incredibly important role in how you feel about yourself. (Do I want to have sex more or less than other people? Why is my sex drive higher/lower than it was in the past?) And it’s super-important in sexual experiences and satisfaction overall, with or without a partner. So to better understand all things libido, we reached out to Logan Levkoff, PhD, Sexual Health Educator and Member of the Trojan Sexual Health Advisory Council, and Raquel Dardik, MD, a gynecologist at NYU Langone Health in New York, and gathered some important information that could change the way you think about your sexual needs and sexual interactions.
Alright, let’s get into it!
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First things first, libido is more complex than just how often you want to have sex.
“A lot of people don’t understand that libdo has two parts to it — desire, which is the mental aspect, and arousal, which is the physical aspect,” Levkoff tells BuzzFeed Health. “And they don’t always work in tandem with one another.”
Sometimes people don’t have a lot of sexual desire, but can still get physically aroused, and sometimes people do have a lot of sexual desire, but their bodies don’t have much physical arousal. Both situations happen all the time and can be totally normal, she explains.
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And there is absolutely no such thing as a ~normal libido~.
“We live in a world where many of us believe, even though we know it’s not true, that we’re supposed to have constant spontaneous desire, or there’s something physically/mentally wrong with us,” Levkoff says. “But the reality is that for many people that’s just not the case.”
Everyone is different, and all bodies are different, which means there is no normal amount of sexual desire. Desire can be spontaneous, but for a lot of people it also comes as a response to stimulation. Sometimes it might require a little bit of work to get in the mood and THAT’S OKAY, she says.
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Trying to hold yourself to the societal standard of an ~ideal libido~ can actually be damaging to your self-esteem and relationships — and ironically, may lower your libido.
“We have to come to terms with the fact that there’s no normal libido because so many of our relationship and sexual problems happen because we don’t know how to talk about our needs,” Levkoff explains. “The reality is you can have a lot of sexual desire, you can have a little sexual desire, or your sexual desire could be totally nonexistent — that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.”
She says that if you’re constantly afraid or stressed about whether your sexual needs are ~normal~ or not, it could affect your confidence and change the way you engage in sexual interactions.
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And if your sexual partner’s libido is different than yours, it doesn’t mean they aren’t attracted to you.
It’s easy to assume that if your partner isn’t in the mood every time you are, it means your partner isn’t truly attracted to you, or is just attracted to you less than you are to them. But Levkoff says that is usually not the case, and that train of thought only hurts your confidence and makes things in bed more complicated and confusing.
“Your partner does not need to want to jump into bed with you every time they see you in order to truly be attracted to you,” she explains. “Sometimes, people just have lower levels of sexual desire and that’s okay.”
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A change in libido can sometimes be a result of other underlying medical issues.
Anything to do with blood circulation, hormones, or physical pain or discomfort can easily affect libido levels. So there are a few things that have a history of affecting people’s desire to get it on, such as medications (antidepressants, birth control pills, etc.), mental illnesses, and chronic diseases, like diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Dardik says.
She recommends seeing a medical professional if you ever notice a drastic change in your sexual desire. That way, you can undergo an evaluation and rule out any serious medical conditions.
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BUT there are A LOT of common, everyday factors that play into one’s libido, and they can be different for everyone.
According to Dardik, there is very little research into the science behind libido. But what researchers do know, is that there are multiple factors that can affect someone’s desire to have sex, and the most common one is stress.
“The higher a woman’s stress level, the lower her libido usually is,” Dardik explains. “Libido can also be affected by your work schedule, your eating habits, whether you’re exercising more, whether you’re exercising less, and many other lifestyle changes.”
So if you notice a change in your desires and you’re wondering why, she recommends first looking at your everyday routine and see if there’s been any significant changes to it.
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And yes, your libido can change as you get older and your body matures.
Your brain changes as you age, your body changes as you age, and therefore so will your libido, Dardik says.
For example, when women go through menopause, their vaginal tissue changes and it can result in women experiencing painful intercourse. Just experiencing the pain, can alone decrease libido. If you start to associate sexual experiences with pain, it becomes less desirable, she explains.
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Oh, and no, libido should not be defined based on gender norm stereotypes.
“It’s my biggest frustration that libido is categorized into gender norms,” Levkoff says. “There are so many damaging stereotypes, such as it’s only men that want sex and they want it all the time. And women always want it less, and if they actually want it more than that’s weird and not normal, and they should feel ashamed about it.”
She says it’s not true because there are men who experience lower desire and then feel super ashamed about it because they feel they aren’t “masculine enough,” and there are women who have low desire, but there are also women who have high desire, and that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them.
Classifying people, and holding them to these ~societal norms~ is only going to make people feel inadequate and do things they aren’t comfortable with, making it harder for people to have successful sexual experiences, she says.
Your ability to orgasm has nothing to do with your libido.
Orgasms are a muscular response, and having desire does not mean you’re going to orgasm, Levkoff explains.
“Someone could have a ton of desire, but if they’re in the middle of a sexual act and they get really distracted or stressed, or something doesn’t feel good, the likelihood is it could take a really long time to orgasm, if at all.”
She says it’s also possible to end a sexual experience with an orgasm, even if it didn’t initially start out with you wanting to have sex.
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And libido aside, if you’re not enjoying your sexual experiences, it will decrease your desire to have them.
If your experiences are not pleasurable, or if they’re unfulfilling for you, you’re going to be less likely to want more of them — and that has nothing to do with libido. That’s why Levkoff says it’s important for you to know what you enjoy, and what feels good for you. You have to figure that out before you can figure out what you want with your partner.
"If your libido is already low, and your experiences aren’t good, then it’s not going to help you want to have more sexual experiences or get aroused when thinking of having sexual experiences with that person,” she explains. “Sometimes if you’re having amazing sexual experiences, but you’re not in the mood, you still may be able to get aroused because you’re excited about the potential for those great sexual experiences.”
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If you want to increase your libido, you first have to understand why, and what’s causing it to be lower than you’d like.
How you deal with your lack of libido is going to depend on why you want to increase your libido and what factors are preventing you from having a higher libido in the first place.
If your partner wants more sex than you, that’s one type of problem, Dardik says. But if you’re not feeling as desirable because you are uncomfortable with how you look, and that makes you uncomfortable with having sexual experiences, then that’s a completely different problem. In both situations you’re experiencing lower libido, and want to be more sexually active, but the causes are different and will require different plans of action.
“Men have Viagra, but there is no Viagra for women,” she says. “I do recommend people visit a therapist for sexual counseling or psychosocial counseling because most of the time libido problems that people experience are mental.”
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And note that while you should always explore your own needs and desires, it’s even more important to figure out so you can recognize a change when you need to.
It’s important to know what your normal is when it comes to sexual desires. How often do you get sexual urges? How often do you masturbate? If you understand this, then it will be easier for you to notice a change (if it happens), and know when it’s time to see a medical professional that you can talk openly with about your sex life, Dardik says.