If you haven't been feeling it lately in bed, this is a must-read

By Esther Crain
October 22, 2014

A libido that's missing in action is a buzzkill with many possible causes, such as stress, relationship drama, even prescription meds. Now, evidence points to a new and very surprising culprit to consider: your food. Fast food, processed items, and nonorganic produce all tend to contain phthalates-a group of chemicals that has been linked to a plunging libido in women.

In a new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, researchers questioned 360 pregnant women in their 20s and 30s about their sex life during the months before they conceived. They also took urine samples, measuring the level of phthalates in each sample. The results? Women who racked up the highest level of phthalates in their urine were two-and-a-half times more likely to report a stalled sex drive.

"We know that phthalates are endocrine disruptors that affect hormone levels in men," says Emily Barrett, Ph.D., lead study author and an assistant professor at University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. "But this study demonstrates that phthalates also impact hormones in women, specifically the estrogen and testosterone (yep, women have some of this too) that power libido."

Barrett and her team largely focused on a type of phthalates found in food. But other phthalates are present in a ton of everyday products. They make plastic bendy, so they're in shower curtains, steering wheels, yoga mats, and pretty much any soft or flexible plastic item. Though the study didn't call them out, these phthalates might also pose a threat to your sex drive, says Barrett.

Before you swear off everything from French fries to yoga class, keep in mind that researchers only found an association between phthalate levels and low libido, not proof that one causes the other. And there's no data on the tipping point when phthalate exposure starts to mess with your sex drive. Until there is, Barrett advises playing it safe by reducing your intake of prepackaged and fast foods. And use this as an excuse to hit the farmer's market. Phthalates are in pesticides, so pesticide-free organic produce is safer.