First of all: Don't worry, you're nowhere near the only woman who experiences this. Anne Barbieri, M.D., an ob-gyn at Mount Sinai Medical Center, says people of all ages come into her office with a stalled sex drive, whether they’re in their twenties or sixties.
“For some people experiencing this, it’s due to a hormonal imbalance, but that’s not always the case,” she says. “You have to get into the complicated issue [with each patient], which means talking about hormones, physical health, their emotional state, their lifestyle in general, and their relationship.”
But, first things first: To talk about what causes a low libido, you have to understand how your sex drive works.
What controls female libido anyway?
So, what charges your love machine? A key component is testosterone. As a woman, you don't have enough of the hormone to grow a goatee; but the amount you do have plays a role in your sex drive, especially just before ovulation (when you're most likely to get pregnant).
Every month at mid-cycle, your brain signals the ovaries—which create 50 percent of the body's testosterone—to produce a surge of the lust-stimulating stuff. Basically, your body wants you to get busy during its optimal baby-making time.
Testosterone also initiates blood flow that causes your vagina and clit to become plump and sensitive. This leads to lubrication and, with any luck, one hell of an orgasm.
Why aren't you feeling horny?
Now, as for what can put a pause on your passion, that’s where things can go in a few different directions.
Sherry Ross, M.D., women’s health expert and author of She-ology explains: “Women’s sexual desire and appetite begins in that great organ above the shoulders, rather than the one below the waist,” she says. “The daily stresses of work, money, children, relationships, and diminished energy are common issues contributing to low libido in women.”
That's because, when your body produces more cortisol (the stress hormone), it decreases its output of testosterone (womp, womp).
That's why Barbieri often asks patients about lifestyle factors first—like if her patient is committed to someone, communicating with her partner, and feeling happy. And she’ll look for signs of emotional or physical abuse, too.
Next up is lifestyle and schedule. “If someone is physically and mentally exhausted, that can lead to low libido,” Barbieri says.
Besides all that, Barbieri says she’ll also touch on hormonal issues like menopause and birth control.
Some contraceptives alter the body's testosterone production—and not in a good way. Hormonal birth control often puts the ovaries to sleep, halting ovulation. Conked-out ovaries can't produce testosterone. And lower testosterone often means lower libido.
A few other physical factors that can throw your hormones out of whack: depression (some antidepressants can put a damper on your sex drive), high blood pressure, high BMI, being overweight, and medical conditions like endometriosis, arthritis, and menopause.
How to increase your sex drive
If you just never want to do it, Barbieri says it's worth trying at least a few of these:
1. Talk about that role-play fantasy you've been harboring.
Or consider introducing that sex toy you've always been curious about. Because, real talk: If you’re not communicating with your partner, you’re likely not getting what you need—in all aspects of the relationship.
“The most healthy and natural method to improve a women’s sex drive is having a close connection, emotionally, mentally and physically, with your partner,” Ross says. “Having good communication with your partner is the best foreplay a woman could ask for.”
2. Load up on avocado—and exercise.
You know that to nourish your body, you need seven to nine hours of sleep, regular exercise, and good-for-you food.
Well, all that will help fuel your sexual appetite, too. “Eat a diet that’s based on whole foods and rich in healthy fats, like avocados, olive oil and nuts,” Barbieri says, while lowering your intake of refined carbs, trans fat, and sugar
Those mood-enhancing endorphins you feel during or after a workout? That can also get you revved up in bed. “Women who do moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise showed an increase in libido and sexual performance,” Ross says.
3. Throw on a face mask while watching some Queer Eye.
Stress is a major libido killer. But taking some time for yourself can help that, Barbieri says. Set aside time during your week to treat yourself to some self-care. Take yourself out to a movie, get a mani, take a yoga class—whatever gives you some sense of bliss.
4. Load up on oysters. Yes, really.
The science isn't definitive, but hey, aphrodisiacs like oysters, eggs, caviar, asparagus, celery, onions and clamsare worth a shot. “Some are thought to improve sex drive by visually looking like genitalia (eggs and caviar), while others have the shape and texture (clams and oysters) of genitalia,” Ross explains. “Other foods (oysters) are high in zinc which many people are deficient in and can cause a low sex drive.”
5. Call in the big guns.
Losing weight, working with a doctor to address medication side effects, or going to physical therapy for any pelvic pain can all help turn up your sex drive.
Hormone replacement therapy is also an option if you’ve tried other methods, says Barbieri. In these cases, the most important thing is talking to your doctor to figure out what makes the most sense for you, before doing anything drastic.