Can birth control kill your libido? How about your coffee habit? If your sex drive suffering, these lesser-known culprits could be the cause...
Low Sex Drive?
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It's no secret that women are complicated, in more ways than one. Our hormonal makeup is so complex that doctors have yet to completely understand it, while our emotions often color the way we feel about sex. Sarah L. Berga, M.D., a James Robert McCord professor and chair of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, explains that in women, "there are so many different variables that play a role [in the function of sex drive], that it's difficult to independently isolate the impact of any one of them."
Sex drive doesn't always boil down to biology: other factors certainly play a part. "For instance, stress, which releases cortisol, can sometimes block the actions of the hormones that support sexuality," Dr. Berga says. Other causes of a low libido in women can include fatigue, poor body image, a strained partner relationship, and depression. Ironically, even your birth control can even kill your libido. On the opposite side of the fence, a new relationship, a romantic evening, or even shedding a few pounds can all spark sexual desire. "Many people just don't understand their own sexuality very well," Dr. Berga notes, making a problem, and its solution, difficult to pinpoint. (Related: This Is the Best Workout to Increase Your Sex Drive)
Keep reading to discover seven unexpected things you might not even think about that can actually cause your libido to take a hit. (If none of these are ringing a bell, read: How to Know If Your Low Sex Drive Is a Disorder.)
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Your Birth Control—and Any Other Medication
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Any medication that you're on—from prescription acne medicine to OTC cold medicine to birth control—could kill your sex drive. "Think about it: If it's drying your sinuses or skin out, it's also drying out other mucus membranes in your body," explains relationship and sex expert Kat Van Kirk , Ph.D.
Hold up—can birth control kill your libido? Scan the list of side effects that comes with your birth control pills (you know, the piece of paper that you toss in the trash every month). That little insert will tell you that oral contraceptives can cause everything from weight gain and breast tenderness to nausea, mood changes, dizziness, and (yep!) a lower sex drive. Studies have linked oral contraceptive use to decreased levels of androgens—the class of hormones, including testosterone, thought to drive both male and female sexuality. Birth control pills also alter a woman's natural estradiol fluctuations (the group of hormones that includes estrogen), which many ob-gyns consider the main source of female libido. When you're on the pill, your hormonal balance changes—and consequently, your desire for sex might change, too.
But don't throw out your pills just yet. Many studies have examined the effect of hormonal birth control on sex drive, but few have been conclusive, says Anne R. Davis, M.D., MPH, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who published a review of 40 years' worth of literature on contraceptive-libido studies. Different studies' results vary widely, Dr. Davis found. "When women are on the pill, three things can happen: their libido can go up, their libido can stay the same, or their libido can go down," she explains.
If your birth control or any other med continues to make you lose interest in getting naked, talk to your doctor or gynecologist about switching up your dose or trying a non-hormonal alternative. Kirk also says that if medications are causing you to feel less wet but you're still horny, add lube to your routine to make things more pleasurable.
You’re Feeling ALL the Feels
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Dr. Davis maintains that emotions play a huge role in your libido. Mood and partner issues, she says, "are more important than a small change in your testosterone from the pill." She argues that for many women, it's easier to blame their birth control than to examine the complicated emotional and relationship factors that could be taking a toll on their sex drives. (And who knew? Women feel horniest at a totally different hour than men.)
"I think men, sometimes, can disassociate their sexuality from their circumstances," Dr. Davis posits. "But women, if they're not in a context that makes them feel sexual, sometimes it's very hard for them to feel interested in sex. If you're reading Dr. Seuss to your kids, sitting around in your bathrobe, it's very hard to feel sexy five minutes later." (That's exactly why one woman tried a 30-day sex challenge to revive her marriage's boring sex life.)
Photo: Viktor Gladkov/Shutterstock
Your Cup(s) of Coffee
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Do you ever get excited for your morning brew before you even fall asleep at night? While your a.m. caffeine kick might be more appealing to you than a quickie, Dr. Kirk says too much coffee can make a sexy romp even less likely. "Caffeine from a cup or two of coffee a day may give you a bit of an energy boost, but regular overconsumption of caffeine can cause trouble in the bedroom," she says. "Too much caffeine causes your adrenal glands over-function and release stress hormones in your brain that can inhibit sexual desire and function." (See: How Much Coffee Is Too Much?) Dr. Kirk recommends one 8-ounce serving of coffee each day to keep your libido healthy, and—while it might be a hard thing to kick—a gradual decline in your roasted brew may make your sex life steamier.
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You're Putting Yourself Down
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Quick: Think about the last five things you've thought to yourself when you last looked in the mirror. The way you talk to yourself, compare your body to others, and generally examine (to infinite detail) how you look can cause you to lose interest in sex. "How you feel about yourself has everything to do with how you desire sex," says Dr. Kirk. She adds that many women experience 'spectatoring' while having sex, which means that you're so caught up with judging how you look and act during sex that you can't orgasm or enjoy the moment. "Not only can this poor body image dampen your desire, but it can make you reluctant to have sex in the future," she says. (Related: The Number of Selfies You Take Could Affect Your Body Image)
While you might be hyper-focused on imperfections, Kirk says most partners don't think twice about a misplaced freckle, a little fat, or cellulite—they're too captivated by you and your moves. So the next time you're starting to think about what's wrong with you, shift the focus to your partner and consider all the things that make you turned on. (More on that here: How to Build Confidence in 5 Easy Steps)
Photo: Kulakevych Anastasiia/Shutterstock
The Way He Smells
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When you first started dating, you likely loved that he left his scent on your pillow. Or maybe you buried yourself in his oversized sweatshirt, just to be comforted by his smell. Since it's the strongest sense tied to memory, those loving whiffs connected you to your partner and reminded you of the happy moments that made you fall in love. But as you continue to date, get married and have a long-term relationship, what once attracted you could actually turn you off. (Related: How Important Is Perceived Attractiveness In a Relationship?)
"Research has shown that we tend to be attracted to people who have a totally different genetic make-up from ourselves in order to avoid mating too closely to our own family," Dr. Kirk says. "Our pheromones are good indicators of these desirable differences. But with age, our sense of smell not only declines but pheromones can change. This means that we may eventually not only have less interest in sex but in theory, not be as attracted to our partners as we once were." While you can't really fight genetics, Dr. Kirk says you can encourage your partner to try a new cologne that you find appealing, tricking your own nose into 'falling in a new love' with the same ol' love.
The Carpet In Your House
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If you haven't quite been in the mood since moving into your fixer-upper house, there may be a reason for that. Dr. Kirk says that since toxins were introduced into many household items, many scary things lurk in old homes and apartments. "They're really everywhere, from the chemicals in microwave popcorn, dyes in food, paper inks, vinyl product use, and carpet fiber," she says. "All of these chemicals that we either inhale or come into contact with our bodies can mess with our hormones." (FYI: Food can mess with your hormones too.)
The scariest part? Dr. Kirk says that environmental factors may account for lower testosterone and earlier onset erectile dysfunction in men. You can have a professional do a walk-through your house to test for chemicals and lower your intake of processed food to help fight these scary toxins and get your sex drive back.
It’s Time for a Break
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It could be the pill that's causing your libido loss, or it could be one of a million other factors. So what should you do if you're just not in the mood anymore? The experts agree that to properly diagnose and treat this problem, you'll need to have a lengthy conversation with your doctor. Unfortunately, most doctors (and many patients) just don't have the time for an hour-long session in an age where office visits tend to hover around the 10- to 15-minute mark.
But you can still have a productive talk with your doctor if you do your homework first. The key question to ask yourself is, has there been a change? From there, identify any circumstances—Can birth control kill my libido? Or is it fatigue? Or perhaps depression?—that might have coincided with the change in your makeout motivation.
Identifying the point of change is the key to identifying its cause, says Dr. Berga, who trains her medical students to begin with this inquiry. "Sometimes you'll have people come in who are 50 and they'll say, I have low libido," she reveals. "[The doctor] will say, how long has it been like this? And [the patient] will say, 40 years." If your libido has always been low, then the problem is most likely not with the birth control that you started taking two months ago or fatigue caused by a few nights of poor sleep.
If all else fails, another type of break may be in order. According to Dr. Davis, "A lot of people that complain about loss of libido will say, 'Except when we're on vacation.'" Why? "When they're on vacation, they have time to remember why they like each other and they're not exhausted, so their libido comes back." A week in Aruba sounds like our kind of cure.
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