The libido, or sex drive, is a natural desire for sex. Sexual appetite can be influenced by such factors as health, mood, and emotional connection with your partner.
There is no one healthy standard for the libido. The range and particulars for each person are highly individual. Naturally high and naturally low sex drives are both normal. The libido can also fluctuate over time—for both healthy and unhealthy reasons.
People become aroused both mentally and physically, and develop different patterns of initiating sex. There is a difference between spontaneous sexual desire (you think about sex and get physically turned on) and responsive sexual desire (you engage in physical stimulation and become interested in taking things further as a result). Most of us respond to a combination of physical and mental arousal.
On a related note, some people are more comfortable initiating intercourse and “taking the lead” (likely dominant), and some are more comfortable responding (likely submissive). Having a preference for one or the other doesn’t indicate a higher or lower libido, just different needs for experiencing desire and pleasure. Partners who take the time to find out what turns each of them on deepen their relationship and potential for sexual satisfaction.
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Desire is a precondition for consensual sex. Partners can have more compatible or less compatible libidos, and compromise is often necessary to ensure mutual satisfaction. If a person with high sex drive has a partner with low sex drive, masturbation may be a good option to satisfy cravings without burdening their partner with unwanted attention.
Sexual intimacy occurs when both partners are emotionally and physically available, and willing to participate.
There are four stages of physiological arousal:
Excitement, or sexual tension—the body prepares for sex as blood rushes to the genitalia, nipples become erect, and the heartbeat quickens.
Plateau—stimulation becomes increasingly pleasurable, and responses intensify.
Orgasm—the climax, or release, occurs as a series of involuntary muscular contractions.
Resolution—without continued stimulation, muscles relax, tension dissipates, and you may experience a feeling of calm bliss, also known as “the afterglow”.
The more synchronized partners are while progressing through these stages, the more natural the interaction feels and the more pleasurable the sex is. It is nearly impossible to be in perfect sync, so be considerate of what your partner is experiencing. And it is only fair that you expect them to do the same.
Problems in the bedroom
The libido is complex. We all have our highs and lows but sometimes a lack of sexual desire is directly tied to an emotional or psychological issue. There are a number of common problems that affect sex drive and intimacy.
Many people suffer from performance anxiety and negative self-image. Worry about the adequacy of your body and the way it responds, as well as fear of being judged by your partner can definitely ruin the moment. Although men are more visibly affected, both men and women need to feel relaxed and comfortable with their partners to enjoy sexual intimacy. Don’t be too harsh on yourself—becoming confident in such an intimate setting takes time and practice.
Unrealistic expectations can also be a problem, and may be a result of having been exposed to a particular set of behaviours. For example, pornography focuses on what looks good on camera, rather than what feels good for the people involved, and paints an unrealistic picture of what sex should be like. Educating yourself about sex (via reliable sources) is essential—not only to discover what brings you pleasure, but also to know how to protect yourself from STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and avoid unwanted pregnancy.
Many people have misconceptions about sex and about how men and women ought to behave in romantic and intimate relationships. We are constantly bombarded with stereotypes from the media, advertising, and misguided schools of thought that perpetuate black-and-white thinking, which doesn’t do justice to the uniqueness of the individual human experience. Misconceptions like these can contribute to a lack of creativity in bed, difficulty expressing desire, a conservative attitude towards sexuality, or incompatible interests.
A lack of communication with your sexual partner is another common culprit. It may seem romantic to be swept off your feet (or sweep someone off theirs) and let it all “just happen”, but if you have no idea what your partner likes and vice versa, this kind of scenario isn’t realistic. This is not to say that effortless intimacy isn’t possible—it’s just that it takes work, understanding, and patience to get there. Sitting down and having an honest sex chat with your partner can go a long way towards improving your relationship in bed.
Sex is not something to take lightly, but it’s also important let yourself have fun! You’ll find that the best sex is less dependent on skill and looks than on how comfortable you feel with the person you’re involved with.
A self-fulfilling prophecy
Reaffirming positive associations with your partner is important for a lasting relationship. Affectionate behaviours such as hugging or kissing release a cocktail of dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin (chemicals that facilitate bonding), and lower cortisol levels (which reduces stress and anxiety), promoting further affectionate behaviour. Likewise, sexual intimacy increases the desire for further sexual intimacy.
While the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” isn’t completely unfounded, physical separation is more likely to result in decreased sexual desire between partners.
For a healthy libido over the long-term, it’s important for both partners to be both emotionally and sexually satisfied as this is the basis for a healthy intimate relationship. Low or decreased sexual energy can be an issue if one partner is continually unresponsive to the other partner’s efforts to initiate sex.
Loss and reclamation of desire
A lack of libido may have nothing to do with your current partner. Sociological surveys and studies show that libido naturally declines over time. This process often begins earlier for women than for men, since the decrease in sex hormones happens in different ways and at a different pace for each gender.
An overall lack of libido can be a sign of mental disorder, such as SAD (sexual aversion disorder) or HSDD (hypoactive sexual desire disorder), also known as ISD (inhibited sexual desire).
An unhealthy state of mind can “block” sexual desire.
A person who experiences a lack of sexual desire sometimes maintains this condition either consciously or unconsciously. It can seem safer to keep oneself shut off from vulnerable emotions so as not to get hurt again. This temporary solution is quite likely to backfire, but it can be difficult to resolve alone. Confiding in a good friend or consulting a psychotherapist or sexologist may be helpful.
Your lifestyle has a big impact on hormone function. Taking care of yourself is imperative if you want to be physically, mentally, and sexually healthy.
Get enough quality sleep (consistently). Sleep is restorative. It is crucial for athletic performance as well as cognitive performance. It is also protective against inflammation, cell damage, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and depression.
Eat good food. A balanced diet is vital for all the systems in your body to function properly. Make sure to consume enough protein, fiber and healthy fats. Avoid undereating and overeating, and keep sugar and refined carbs at a reasonable minimum. Healthy food choices promote further healthy food choices—being mindful about what you eat gets easier with time.
Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps your body manage insulin, reduces anxiety and depression, boosts endorphin production, increases your energy levels while improving quality of rest, and maintains muscle, bone, and skin health. Even a little exercise every day can have noticeable benefits.
Manage stress. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline serve important functions but can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as overeating, if levels become chronically elevated. Set aside a little regular me-time for purposeful relaxation, especially if you’re a busy person.
Low libido isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some people deliberately suppress their desire for spiritual or religious reasons. Others identify as asexual—they may experience romantic attraction, but not sexual desire. Being accepting of yourself may well play the most important role in enjoying your sexuality.
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