Ever felt your desire flicker along with the fit of your jeans? The weight loss and libido connection is real: Your readiness to romp often depends on how you're feeling about your naked body.
"Many women lose their sexual confidence when they put on weight, but insecurity can also stem from something as subtle as feeling like you have poor muscle tone," says Susan Kellogg Spadt, Ph.D., director of female sexual medicine at the Center for Pelvic Medicine, Academic Urology in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. "In my practice, I see it daily in women of all weights."
How the Scale Sabotages Your Sex Life
Studies show that having a body mass index (BMI) that's too high or too low messes with your mojo. (So it's not all about weight loss and libido—weight gain and libido can have a vital relationship, too.) When you gain or lose body fat, a slew of hormones affecting your libido are thrown out of whack. "It's a chain reaction," says Jennifer Berman, M.D., a urologist and sexual-health expert in Los Angeles. Your levels of a natural chemical known as sex-hormone-binding globulin increase, which causes bioavailable testosterone, the hormone that stimulates sexual desire, to fall. In addition, high cholesterol associated with obesity can lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels that supply the pelvic region, slowing blood flow to the clitoris and genitals and annihilating sexual arousal. (Related: 4 Deep Vaginal Erogenous Zones You Do Not Want to Miss)
Yet even more potent than the physiological effect of your weight is how you feel about it. "If you're insecure and you focus on the way your body looks or what your partner is thinking about it during sex, you're not going to be in the mood," points out Cindy Meston, Ph.D., director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas in Austin.
Meston's research has shown that a woman's sex drive is strongly linked to body confidence—specifically her perception of the areas of her body that can be easily seen by others (think stomach and thighs)—rather than her BMI. (Yep, weight loss and libido—and body confidence—don't always arrive as one handy combo platter.) In one study, women were asked to compare six of their body parts to those of models in 20 different photographs. Then the women watched an erotic film while hooked up to a monitor that measured their vaginal blood flow. "The women felt turned on, but physically they experienced a significant decrease in sexual response to the film," says lead author Yasisca Pujols Khouri, a doctoral student in Meston's lab. "Comparing yourself with a thin ideal can negatively affect your sexual response without your even realizing it."
How to Increase Libido (Without Losing Weight)
When desire dips, there is no magic pill to instantly restore it. The good news is, you don't need one. There are little things you can do each day to light your own fire. (And get this: You can even tap into the lunar cycle to enhance your sex life.) "Don't wait for libido to explode like some magical volcano in your body," says Kellogg Spadt. "You have to foster and nurture it." Here's how.
1. Work out to get turned on.
Research shows that women who exercise feel better about their bodies and have more energy for sex. Physical activity releases hormones, such as endorphins and dopamine, that are believed to affect sex drive. Best of all, working up a sweat increases sexual sensations almost immediately, Meston's groundbreaking studies have found. "It's the best cure for sluggish sexual arousal that we have," she says. Doing just 20 minutes of cardio at 75 percent of your maximum effort—when you can speak only in choppy sentences—increases sexual excitement by a remarkable 150 percent. "Exercise gets the body revved up," Meston explains. "So then, when you're in a sexual situation later, blood is sent to the genitals more quickly and intensely." The payoff? Better arousal and stronger orgasms. (More here: 5 Benefits of Having Post-Workout Sex)
The best sexercises are those that increase blood flow to the thighs, buttocks, hamstrings, and pelvis, such as yoga, jogging, cycling, squats, and lunges. And, since strength training boosts testosterone, it's also a great libido-booster. Schedule at least 20 minutes a few times a week and then get busy with your partner.
2. Buy orgasmic.
Add sexuality superfoods to your shopping list. Those rich in antioxidants, fatty acids, zinc, and the amino acid asparagine can help boost both mood and libido, says Dr. Berman. Her top picks: asparagus, avocados, blueberries, salmon, and omega-3-enriched eggs. (Related: The Top 10 Healthy Foods to Always Have on Your Grocery List)
Overall, opt for a steady menu of heart- and brain-healthy foods, which feed your desire by preventing plaque buildup in the arteries and boosting mood, an important precursor to arousal. In fact, research has shown that the Mediterranean diet, which is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and fish, is ideal for sexual health. A Journal of Sexual Medicine study found that diabetic women who stuck closest to the Mediterranean diet were less likely to experience sexual dysfunction than those who didn't. "As soon as women start to eat healthfully, they feel better about themselves and more sexually confident," says Kellogg Spadt.
3. Bare your bod.
Weight loss and libido are linked, as is weight acceptance and libido. A lot of women are so busy dwelling on their perceived flaws during sex that they sabotage their own pleasure. The cure: Doing a daily ritual to reduce anxiety about being seen nude, Meston says. Instead of grabbing for your robe post-shower, walk around the bathroom naked (maybe even have a solo naked dance party) and purposely look in every mirror you pass, gazing at your whole body rather than your problem areas. Soon being bare will become so second nature that you'll be able to tune out your inner critic and tune into all the feel-good sensations when you're doing the deed. (Related: I'm a Sexologist and Here are 6 Lessons I'd Give My Younger Self About Sex)
4. Rendezvous with you.
Think of it as a sexual workout that's good for your health. Giving yourself an orgasm sans partner brings blood flow to your genital area, nourishing those cells and tissues and increasing your immunity against bacteria and yeast. And because good sex and orgasms lead to more sex and orgasms, it will help get you in the mood for the real deal. A survey of more than 2,000 women found that the 53 percent who used vibrators scored higher on measures of desire, arousal, and orgasm. (Not sure where to start? Try these masturbation tips.)
5. Stop obsessing.
Do you really have reason to be so self-conscious about your body? Does your partner even care about the cellulite on your left thigh or the flabby inch you can pinch on your right arm? "There's a huge disconnect between what a woman thinks her partner is attracted to and what he actually is attracted to," Meston says.
6. Make a best-laid plan.
Too tired. Too stressed. Too full. Figure out your biggest barriers to sex and plan around them. Do you ever go on a big date with your partner, expecting the night to end in passion...but after a big steak dinner with drinks, followed by dessert (obv), end up bloated on the couch in a food coma? You're not alone. Instead of a dinner date, schedule a sex date. The anticipation of intimacy later will help turn you on. Text your partner flirty messages throughout the day. Or plan a tryst for the morning, when the kids are still sleeping and your stomach is empty. (Need a little extra motivation? Discover 7 surprising health benefits of having an orgasm.)
7. Put mind over mojo.
During foreplay, focus on the pleasurable sensations instead of wondering what you look like or what your partner is thinking about your body. "Stay in the moment as opposed to going off and being a spectator," says Meston. When your mind strays, silently repeat a mantra, such as "this is hot." It can boost sexual satisfaction. (You can also practice mindful masturbation so it's easier to plug into the moment when you're with a partner.)
7 Other Reasons for a Low Sex-Drive
It's not just about how you feel about your body that can impact your sex life. Your daily habits can do a number on your desire as well. Watch out for these potential libido-lowering habits (plus these other causes of a low sex drive in women).
- Your Health. Certain medical conditions, from thyroid to immune-system disorders, can sap your sexual energy. One of the biggest culprits is depression. Do things that used to bring you great joy—like your orgasm—feel dull? Ask your doctor about therapy.
- Your Rx. Meds, especially birth control and antidepressants, can affect hormone balance and lubrication. Exercise may help override these side effects, so stay active. (Related: How Being an Athlete—or Working Out Like One—Can Impact You Sex Life)
- Your Schedule. When you're too busy or tired for sex, at least touch your partner while you're sleeping; spooning or sleeping back-to-back fosters sexual intimacy.
- Your Pet. Invest in a crate so that Fido or Fluffy doesn't sleep in your bed, especially between the two of you.
- Your Pregame Routine. If watching The Bachelor or reading fashion magazines triggers your body insecurities, skip them before you turn in. Instead, find something that makes you feel good, like lotioning your body or listening to your favorite music.
- His Hygiene. Suggest a steamy shower together to get into sexy mode.
- Too Many Cocktails. Alcohol is a depressant, and it can throw hormone levels out of whack. Cut yourself off after one drink.