Feeling not so hot—and so not bothered by it? “A low libido isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about,” says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ level of sexual desire. How much and how often you want sex varies from woman to woman,” she says. But our culture tells a different story: self-help articles, books, sex toys, and supplements promising to not only boost your libido, but to also transform your so-so sex life into swinging-from-the-chandeliers erotica come at us every day. And now with the potential arrival of flibanserin, the new “female viagra pill” that’s currently trying to gain FDA approval, some women might start to wonder if their lack of desire is not only abnormal, but something that they need to take a pill to fix.
“While a healthy sex life is definitely an important part of the human experience, how much sex you’re having is not really an issue so long you and your partner are happy and communicating about it,” says Hutcherson. While it’s always worth mentioning to your doctor if you’re never, ever in the mood (low libido could occasionally be one of many indicators of a bigger medical condition, such as depression, diabetes, and even heart and lung disease), it’s also usually nothing to stress out about. Read on for eight times that it’s totally normal for sex to be on the very bottom of your to-do list.
You’re about to get your period (or just started it).
A woman’s menstrual cycle has a big impact on libido, says Hutcherson. “While most women will feel a surge in sexual desire right before ovulation, there’s a good chance you’ll also feel totally uninterested in the days leading up to your period,” she says. While that dip in desire is partly due to hormone fluctuations, typical PMS symptoms such as feeling bloated, irritable and fatigued, are also to blame. And, really, who feels like getting hot and heavy on the first day of her period?
Nausea and exhaustion generally don’t do much to make women feel amorous which is why libido generally dips in the first trimester of pregnancy. “But by the second trimester, many women feel desire return when hormones plateau,” says Hutcherson. But be ready for another decrease in desire in the third trimester when most women start to feel physically uncomfortable from the growing baby. Regardless of trimester, if you’re pregnant and not in the mood, don’t worry one iota about it, says Hutcherson.
You’re experiencing the “change.”
Hutcherson says that some women in perimenopause are constantly sexually excited. “But that arousal stage doesn’t last long; as estrogen and testosterone decrease, so does desire,” she says. Add to that hot flashes, difficulty sleeping and night sweats, and it’s no wonder you’re not in the mood. If you’re over 40 and experiencing menopausal symptoms, make a date with your doctor for advice on how to best manage them.
You just had a baby or are breastfeeding.
“The postpartum period is a biological phenomenon,” says Kat Van Kirk, PhD, a licensed marriage, family and sex therapist and the author of The Married Sex Solution: A Realistic Guide to Saving Your Sex Life. “After a woman delivers a baby, her sex hormones shift and she produces less estrogen, which makes it so she’s not interested in sex and bond with her child instead,” she explains. If you’re breast-feeding, your body is also producing prolactin, the hormone that helps you produce milk, which can further suppress libido. Add sleep deprivation, fluctuating weight, and the stress of constant caregiving, and you’ve got a recipe for low sex drive. While some experts say that you should be back in the saddle within a few months after giving birth, Hutcherson advises letting yourself off the hook for up to a year. “You might not be really interested in having sex for quite a while after having a baby,” she says. “The important thing is to tell your partner how you’re feeling and to still be physically affectionate.” She suggests taking baby steps after you’ve had a child—maybe you need a massage or simply to have your partner to tell you that you’re beautiful to starting feeling sexy again.
You’re super busy.
“For a woman to be interested in sex, she’s got to have her brain in the game,” says Hutcherson. Unlike men whose libidos are almost completely hormonally driven, women’s emotions play a huge role in her level of desire. So when life starts getting crazy—like when you’ve got a huge project at work or you’ve had a falling out with a friend—it’s totally normal to not be that into sex. “When you’re stressed, your focus is elsewhere and there simply isn’t room in your brain for arousal,” explains Hutcherson. Plus, when you’re under pressure your brain releases cortisol, which can actually block the actions of sex hormones. But fear not; once the stress subsides, your libido will likely bounce back.
You’re on the pill.
Studies have linked oral contraceptive use to decreased levels of androgens—a class of hormones, including testosterone, thought to drive both male and female sexuality. Your hormones are altered when you take the pill—and that means your desire for sex might change also,” says Van Kirk. Talk to your OB about changing up your pill or trying a non-hormonal form of birth control to regain your sex drive.
You’re going through a major life change.
Buying a house, starting a new job, sending your kids off to school (whether it’s kindergarten or college), and even getting married can cause your libido to plummet. “Because all of these life experiences are actually good things, it can be surprising that your sex drive suffers,” says Van Kirk. “Even good stress can have an impact on our brains, hormones and bodies,” she says. The solution: be kind to yourself, says Hutcherson. Make sure you’re getting enough rest (about seven hours of shut-eye per night), exercise (about 45 minutes per day), and you’re eating well (go for fresh, organic fare over processed junk food). And stop worrying. “The more you worry about your libido, the more it might be negatively affected,” says Hutcherson. “Taking the pressure off yourself might be just the thing that allows your sex drive to return.”
You’re taking an SSRI (or other medication).
Don’t just toss that paper insert that comes along with your prescription medication; check out the side effects. “Many common medications can cause a decreased libido,” says Van Kirk, who specifically notes that antidepressants, as well as medications for blood pressure and thyroid conditions can lower your sex drive. “Antidepressants can also suppress orgasm,” she explains, “so while you might still have desire, it can be frustrating if you can’t climax, which could make you want to avoid sex altogether.” If a lower sex drive is affecting your relationship, don’t just stop taking your meds. “Check in with your doctor,” says VanKirk. “He or she might be able to switch you to a different medication.”