Symptoms A-Z

Decreased Sex Drive Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand decreased sex drive symptoms, including 8 causes & common questions.

This symptom can also be referred to as: decreased libido

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Decreased Sex Drive Symptoms

Decreased sex drive, also known as loss of libido or hypoactive sexual disorder, means you have little to no desire for sexual activity [1]. You may find that you rarely spend any time thinking about or fantasizing about sex. Desire for sex varies widely among individuals, of course, but a near-complete loss of interest becomes a problem if you once had a normal sexual life, feel distressed about this loss of interest, or it begins to impact your partner.

A drop in sex drive is not unusual if you also have an illness, serious stressor, or depression. In one sense, it's nature's way of keeping you from starting a pregnancy or a relationship when you're not physically or emotionally ready to do so. That is why loss of interest in normal activities almost always carries over into decreased sex drive. However, in most cases your normal desire for sex will return once the underlying problem is corrected.

Common characteristics of decreased sex drive

If you're experiencing a decreased sex drive, it can likely be described by:

  • Change in frequency of sex or masturbation
  • Partner noticing a change in sex habits
  • Lack of interest: In sex, sexual images, or other items that would normally lead to arousal

Duration of symptoms

Decreased sex drive may last for varying lengths of time, depending on the cause.

  • Temporary: Decreased sex drive due to a time-limited condition, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or stress may go back to normal once those conditions are resolved.
  • Persistent: If it is due to other illness or stress, however, it rarely corrects itself but will go on until your underlying cause is addressed.

Who is most often affected by decreased sex drive symptoms?

The following people are more likely to experience decreased sex drive.

  • Women, due to hormones: Women are most often affected since they experience the effects of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause.
  • Men, due to other causes: can experience loss of libido, too, usually from obesity, illness, or medication [2].

When is decreased sex drive most likely to occur?

Decreased sex drive is more likely to occur after age 50. However, even a person well-advanced in age can still desire physical intimacy with a partner. Loss of libido is not an inevitable part of aging.

Is a decreased sex drive serious?

The severity of decreased sex drive is ultimately determined by the cause.

  • Potentially serious: Sudden loss of sexual function or desire can be a sign of underlying illness — either physical or psychological — that should be treated [3].
  • Serious in the long run: In any case, sexuality is a normal part of life, and anything that interferes with it will soon affect your marriage or other romantic relationship. If you are distressed over the loss of sexual functioning, it is important to get treatment so that quality of life is not affected.

Decreased Sex Drive Causes

Many conditions can have decreased sex drive as a symptom. The most common are those involving hormone imbalances followed by emotional and psychological issues. Sometimes an illness and/or a certain medication can be a direct cause.

Hormone-related causes

Causes of decreased sex drive related to hormones may include the following.

  • Pregnancy
  • Postpartum: This period includes the weeks and months immediately following childbirth. This is especially prevalent if you are also breastfeeding.
  • Menopause [4]
  • Thyroid disorders: These affect metabolism and the production of sex hormones.
  • Low testosterone in men [5]

Physical causes

There may be physical causes that result in decreased sex drive, such as the following.

  • Underlying illness: This may cause a loss of sexual response.
  • Side effects of medication: These often interfere with sexual response, especially high blood pressure medicines, anti-seizure drugs, and antidepressants.
  • Obesity: This can interfere with normal hormone balance, as well as make sexual activity difficult or even impossible.
  • Pain or discomfort: There may be pain or discomfort during sex for physical reasons, such as vaginal dryness in women [6].

Lifestyle causes

Decreased sex drive may result due to certain lifestyle habits, such as the following.

  • Alcohol use
  • Illicit drug use
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Marijuana

Emotional and psychological causes

Emotional and psychological causes can lead to decreased sex drive, such as the following.

  • Difficulty with an ongoing relationship
  • Stress: Such as the stress of a divorce, or dealing with a relationship that otherwise ends.
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Unclear reason: There may seem to be no clear reason for the decreased sex drive, which will be stressful in itself.

8 Possible Decreased Sex Drive Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced decreased sex drive. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Premenstrual syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that can produce emotional and physical symptoms in women in the days leading up to their menstrual cycle. Common symptoms include bloating, cramping, headaches, irritability, fatigue, and sleep and appetite changes. These symptoms...

High prolactin hormone level

Hyperprolactinemia is a common hormonal disorder in which there are higher than normal levels of prolactin in the blood.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: headache, vaginal bleeding, irregular period, decreased sex drive, enlargement of breasts

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Late onset hypogonadism

Late onset hypogonadism is also called LOH, androgen deficiency, or testosterone deficiency syndrome (TDS.)

It is a reduction in testosterone production sometimes found in men over 50. A small amount of loss is natural due to aging, but LOH causes symptoms that may be severe and can interfere with quality of life.

Testosterone is needed to maintain the male reproductive system, but it also influences many other functions including metabolism, bone density, muscle strength and formation, and clear thinking.

LOH is most often caused by a direct loss of functioning in the testicles due to the combination of aging and other illnesses, especially those which interfere with circulation such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease.

It may also be due to malfunction in the hypothalamus and/or pituitary glands in the brain, which control hormone levels.

Symptoms include erectile dysfunction as well as a decrease in libido, muscle strength, and energy. Osteoporosis is also a risk.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and blood tests. Treatment involves testosterone replacement therapy, which usually has very positive effects.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, depressed mood, irritability

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Depression

Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability

Symptoms that always occur with depression: depressed mood

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Mild chronic depression (dysthymia)

Mild chronic depression is also called dysthymia, dysthymic disorder, or persistent depressive disorder. It is a long-term, low-grade depression that may last for years and periodically swings from mild to severe, but never really lifts.

The cause of is not certain. Heredity and brain chemistry may make it more difficult to cope with stressful life events. Dysthymia often begins early in life and may appear in childhood, especially among those with other mental health disorders.

Symptoms include feeling hopeless and inadequate; loss of interest in normal activities; trouble sleeping; irritability; and difficulty relating to others.

Long-term depression can seriously affect anyone's quality of life. If there is talk of suicide, it should be considered a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and blood testing to rule out any physical cause, and through psychological evaluation.

Treatment involves antidepressant medication and "talk therapy," as well as help with life management and coping skills.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty concentrating, impaired social or occupational functioning

Symptoms that always occur with mild chronic depression (dysthymia): depressed mood

Symptoms that never occur with mild chronic depression (dysthymia): severe sadness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Generalized anxiety disorder (gad)

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in the United States. Generalized anxiety disorder refers to ongoing feelings of worry and anxiousness that persists for at least six months. Generalized anxiety disorde...

Pregnancy- or childbirth related depression

Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, guilty, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, taking care of your baby, work, and friendships. Postpartum or peripartum depression occurs in mothers or future mothers and is linked to pregnancy and childbirth.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, impaired social or occupational functioning

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Decreased Sex Drive Treatments and Relief

At-home treatment

There are remedies for decreased sex drive symptoms that you can try at home, such as the following.

  • Lifestyle improvements: Improving your diet, exercise frequency or routine, sleep habits, and socialization can be very helpful
  • Communicate: Although it may be difficult, you can re-examine relationship choices and have open discussions with your partner, making decisions together about your intimate lives and the future of your relationship.
  • Limit drugs and alcohol

When to see a doctor

If your decreased sex drive persists, is impacting your quality of life, or you experience the following, you should see your doctor.

  • Fatigue: Along with feeling cold, ongoing weakness; joint or muscle pain, swollen ankles, racing heart, or any impaired sensation
  • Physical pain during sexual activity
  • Depression: This is defined as a vague feeling of numbness and sadness. A counselor, especially one specializing in sexuality, can help you understand what is happening regarding your loss of sex drive. Couples counseling can also be arranged.
  • Being threatened or feeling like you are in danger, although not immediate: Such your partner being upset you are not having sex with them

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you feel very depressed or even suicidal. You should also seek care if:

  • You have suffered abuse or harm
  • You are in fear of being abused or harmed
  • You experience extreme pain during or after sexual activity

FAQs About Decreased Sex Drive

Here are some frequently asked questions about decreased sex drive.

What are common reasons for a decreased sex drive?

The most common reasons for decreased sex drive include medications like anti-depression medications, or medications that counteract androgens (male sex hormones), alcoholism, depression, fatigue, hypoactive sexual disorder, recreational drugs, relationship problems, fear of humiliation, sexual aversion disorder, systemic illness, and testosterone deficiency.

Can prescription drugs lead to decreased sex drive?

Yes. Most commonly, antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (Prozac) and tricyclic antidepressants can decrease sex drive [7]. Many of these drugs affect libido by increasing the amount of serotonin within the synaptic clefts of the brain. There are alternatives to these drugs, however. Bupropion, for example, is known to treat depression without decreasing libido. Drugs for benign prostatic hyperplasia, like finasteride, for example, can decrease the amount of testosterone as can birth control pills. Both can cause a decrease in libido.

Can too little exercise lead to decreased sex drive?

Yes, exercise transiently increases the amount of testosterone in the body over time which can lead to increased sex drive. It also increases the amount of endorphins and may also lead to increased self-esteem which may increases chances of initiating sex or desiring sex. Too little exercise may deprive an individual of these benefits and contribute to a lower sex drive depending on the cause of the low libido.

What is low libido?

Low libido is a decrease in an individual's baseline sexual desire or desire for sexual activity. This level is different for different individuals and can even vary throughout an individual's lifespan. It can be the product of a chemical imbalance produced by medications, physical illness, psychological diseases, or a physical problem with obtaining and maintaining an erection in the case of men or adequate lubrication in the case of women.

Can low testosterone or estrogen levels have an effect on sex drive?

Yes. Low testosterone levels in particular can decrease sex drive. Testosterone is responsible for both aggression and desire which are components of sex drive. In the absence of high levels of testosterone, it may become more difficult to initiate sexual activity. Low levels of estrogen can have an effect on readying the body for sexual activity.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Decreased Sex Drive

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?
  • Have you had any changes in your weight?
  • Do you currently smoke?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your decreased sex drive

Decreased Sex Drive Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced decreased sex drive have also experienced:

  • 8% Fatigue
  • 2% Depressed Mood
  • 2% Bloody Vaginal Discharge

People who have experienced decreased sex drive were most often matched with:

  • 42% Hypothyroidism
  • 42% High Prolactin Hormone Level
  • 14% Premenstrual Syndrome

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Decreased Sex Drive Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your decreased sex drive

References

  1. Low Sexual Desire. Psychology Today. Psychology Today Link
  2. Hirsch IH. Decreased Libido in Men. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Updated Aug. 2017. Merck Manuals Consumer Version Link
  3. Low Sex Drive – Could It Be a Sign of Depression? Johns Hopkins Medicine: Healthy Woman. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  4. Decreased Desire. The North American Menopause Society. NAMS Link
  5. Rizk PJ, Kohn TP, Pastuszak AW, Khera M. Testosterone therapy improves erectile function and libido in hypogonadal men. Curr Opin Urol. 2017;27(6):511-515. PubMed Link
  6. Reis SL, Abdo CH. Benefits and risks of testosterone treatment for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women: a critical review of studies published in the decades preceding and succeeding the advent of phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2014;69(4):294-303. NCBI Link
  7. Higgins A, Nash M, Lynch AM. Antidepressant-associated sexual dysfunction: impact, effects, and treatment. Drug Healthc Patient Saf. 2010;2:141-50. NCBI Link

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.