Written by Aisling Moran BSc (Hons)
7th Mar 2023 • 4 minute read
Headshot of Dr Rebecca Kingston
Reviewed by
Dr Rebecca Kingston MBChB, Medicine

A lot of people are affected by a low sex drive (libido) at some point. The causes of this are wide-ranging but often your hormone levels are the cause of the problem.

What's a normal sex drive?

Easy, there really isn't one! Everyone is different and only you know what’s normal for you.

If you’re not happy with your sex drive or if it’s affecting your relationship, it’s worth looking into. And remember, this is a common issue that affects both men and women at some point in their life. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Oestrogen and your sex drive

Oestrogen is one of the main female hormones. It helps regulate your periods, controls the development of your sex organs during puberty, and thickens the lining of your uterus so it can support a pregnancy. It’s also important for your sex drive.

Low oestrogen levels can reduce your sex drive. Your levels can be low at any point in your life, but oestrogen naturally drops as you age and approach menopause.

Some side effects of low oestrogen which can affect your sex drive include:

  • vaginal dryness — causing painful sex
  • sleep problems
  • tiredness
  • low mood, including depression

You can check your oestrogen levels using a women's hormones blood test. Get results in 48 hours.

Testosterone and your sex drive

While testosterone is usually considered a “male” hormone, it’s essential for women too (you just produce it in much lower amounts). Oestrogen is still seen as the main driver of a women’s sex drive but recent research suggests that testosterone levels in women are very important too.

As you age, your testosterone levels can drop. This is linked to stress, depression, and mood problems — which can affect your sex drive. Higher levels of testosterone in women have been linked to a higher sex drive but testosterone-based therapies for treating a low sex drive aren’t common in clinical practice yet.

It’s also important that your testosterone levels aren’t too high. High testosterone can indicate polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — which can have unpleasant symptoms that affect your sex drive.

Stress and your sex drive

When you’re stressed, your body produces the hormone cortisol. This is a normal stress response, called your fight-or-flight response. After a stressful situation, your cortisol levels should quickly drop back down to normal.

If you’re stressed a lot your body keeps producing cortisol. This stops your body from making enough of other hormones, like oestrogen, that are important for your sex drive — because your body prioritises making cortisol over other vital hormones. There are lots of things you can do to lower your stress levels.

Thyroid problems and your sex drive

Your thyroid gland produces hormones that help control your metabolism and if it isn’t working properly it can affect your sex drive.

Low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) can cause extreme tiredness — reducing your sex drive. If you think your thyroid gland might be the issue, you can test your thyroid function with a blood test. And there are lots of treatment options available if anything is out of balance.

Other causes of a low sex drive

Your sex drive can be influenced by lots of different things, including:

  • medical conditions — for example, heart disease and diabetes
  • medications — for example, the pill or medication for high blood pressure or depression
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • not being as sexually attracted to your long-term partner
  • pregnancy and breastfeeding

Tips and tricks to boost your sex drive

Losing your sex drive can be a really stressful experience and not only impact your health but also your relationships.

You don’t have to accept a low sex drive — there are lots of things which can help to boost it, including:

  • hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to boost your oestrogen levels — you'll need to work with your GP to see if this is right for you.
  • changing up your routine in the bedroom — variety is the spice of life so get creative!
  • managing your stress levels — from bubble baths to regular walks there are loads of things you can do to lower your stress levels.
  • trying an adaptogenic herb like ashwagandha — can help to help regulate your cortisol levels. It's a good idea to work with a health professional before trying a supplement.

It’s worth visiting your GP or a health professional to learn what the right treatment is for you.