Have You Lost That Lovin' Feeling?

Find out how to fire up desire and get your sex life back.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

For years, you've been happy with your sex life. But now you rarely, if ever, feel in the mood, or your partner rarely, if ever, feels in the mood. Or both. And neither of you is happy about it. Sexual urges? Fantasies? Zero. Zip. Nada.

You're not alone. Nearly half of women and about a third of men report a checked-out libido at some point in their lives. Between 5% and 10% have full-blown "hypoactive sexual desire disorder," medspeak for a sex drive so low, it's miserable.

But because few people realize how common libido loss is, partners often take it personally ("You must not love me anymore!"). Although it's true that lack of interest can stem from relationship issues, plenty of other culprits can diminish desire. Some might be lurking as close as your medicine cabinet.

Here's how to get a handle on the most common problems so you and your partner can move to the satisfying solutions:

The #1 Problem on the Low-Libido List
When researchers asked 1,500 married couples over the age of 57 who hadn't had sex during the last year why they stopped, the most common reason was a health problem. The top issue? Depression. As many as two-thirds of women and one-third of men with depression lose their sex drive. Thyroid problems can also dull desire, and it doesn't matter whether the thyroid's underactive or overactive -- both spell trouble. But as soon as the thyroid is normalized, desire returns to normal. Cancer frequently takes a sexual toll, yet it's often surprisingly easy to treat with counseling. Three combo sessions of cognitive therapy, sex education, and mindfulness training are all it takes to boost desire, according to one study. If you're using medical marijuana to ease the side effects of cancer treatments, avoid it near lovemaking times. Marijuana slows blood flow to the brain region that triggers arousal.

Could the Issue Be a New Medication?
It's maddening but true: Often, the drugs that relieve one problem cause another. Libido loss is a relatively common side effect. Take the popular antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which include Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. They work by upping your levels of serotonin, a feel-good hormone. Ironically, this can douse desire. Common blood pressure medications and opioid pain killers can have the same effect. So can some birth control pills. (Yikes! Aren't you taking them precisely so you can have sex?)

If you suspect a new med is making your sex life old, ask your doc about other options. Often, different doses, different drugs, or completely different treatments (like replacing hormonal contraceptives with an IUD) make a big difference, says Jennifer Berman, MD, a leading authority in female sexual health.

Is It Flagging Hormones?
Low testosterone can slow your libido considerably. It's one of those instances when "less is not more." Simple aging causes downturns in men; menopause or a hysterectomy can trigger them in women. Declines can leave one or both of you short on a hormone that's critical to your sexual appetite. "There's a huge synergy between hormonal and sexual health," emphasizes Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California.

What to do? First, ask your doctor for a blood test to see whether one or both of you need hormonal help. If so, testosterone supplements can be very effective in boosting libido -- and, managed correctly, there are bonuses: They may also improve your bone strength and brainpower.

What may not help menopausal women is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Even though it tames two mood killers, hot flashes and sagging energy, HRT can backfire. The extra estrogen increases a blood protein that latches onto any testosterone it can find, making it even less available in your body.

If your testosterone levels are okay, and it's hypoactive sexual desire disorder that's making you miserable, there are drugs for this that reregulate brain chemicals, says Dr. Goldstein. They not only increase desire but also improve the incidence and quality of orgasms. Your doctor might suggest medications that increase dopamine and nitric oxide (like bupropion) or that lower serotonin and prolactin (like cabergoline). There's also a promising new drug in the pipeline that balances brain neurotransmitters. Called flibanserin, in one study it helped 70% of women with sexual dysfunction.

Okay, Maybe It Is Your Relationship?
Nobody wants to get it on with someone when you're not getting along. Trust issues, resentment, communication problems, just a growing lack of connection . . . all wreak havoc on desire. Emotional outbursts pour more water on the flames: Just the scent of women's tears can cause men's testosterone levels to fall and reduce brain activity responsible for arousal.

Invest the time to reconnect. Sit down and talk, airing the issues that are dampening desire. No, it's not easy, but you can do it. Start with affection, not sex. Try the "hug until you relax" technique, suggests Colorado therapist David Schnarch, PhD, author of Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. It's just a really long hug (5 to 10 minutes) between two fully clothed partners. Don't stop until you're feeling less tense and more peaceful. The aim: To restore a feeling of connection that could start you on the road back to love and desire.

If your relationship troubles seem too big to handle on your own, a couples counselor can help you both 'fess up about what's wrong and heal it.

Or Maybe It's Your Job, or the Kids, or Both
This one's a biggie. You're both zapped from a stressful day at the office and a night with the kids. You've each got mile-long to-do lists, maybe there's an aging parent to visit, and there's a 3-year-old climbing into bed with you. Who has the time or the energy for sex? Stress and exhaustion can shut down desire in the best of marriages.

Remember that foreplay begins long before you enter the bedroom. Kiss each other hello and goodbye every morning. Hold hands as you walk to the car. Pat your partner's rear end on your way to the kitchen. Little touches help get your sexual energy flowing.

At night, use sensual stimulants to put you in the mood. Adding ginseng and saffron to food or tea can have an arousing effect. Light some candles -- they signal something special is about to go on. Just small efforts can juice up desire, says Dr. Goldstein. "The placebo effect is strong when it comes to sex!"

Make a date for lovemaking. Even if you don't feel in the mood, just do it. That approach worked for nearly one-third of 3,700 women in a national survey. They said that even when they didn't start out interested, after a while, they felt aroused. Tip: Concentrate on the pleasurable sensations. If you let yourself get distracted with thoughts like putting OJ on the shopping list, it's almost impossible to have an orgasm. The reward for going through the motions? Your body and your libido will happily catch up.

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