You used to enjoy being intimate with your partner regularly, but lately you find yourself feeling “in the mood” less often. What’s going on? Actually, a lot. Especially for those of us in perimenopause or menopause dealing with a dip in hormones that help fuel sex drive. The good news: For women with a low libido, there are simple, natural remedies to help you get in the mood again — no prescriptions required.
The 3 most common causes of a low libido in women
When it comes to a lagging sex drive in women, there are typically three common causes: menopause, stress, and medication side effects. One, two, or often all three of these factors can collide to create the perfect storm that saps your desire for intimacy. Read on to learn more about the top causes for lack of interest in sex — and to discover the natural remedies that can reverse a low libido in women.
1. A menopausal hormone dip
Experts at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) say it’s common for women to experience a low libido starting in their late 40s and 50s, when perimenopause and menopause occurs. In fact, women are up to three times more likely to experience a decrease in desire than men as they age. Why does this happen? A main culprit is a drop in your levels of the sex hormones estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. These three hormones are instrumental in both fertility and sexuality. And the decline in estrogen in particular can impact whether or not you feel like having sex.
“Lower estrogen levels can lead to vaginal dryness and thinning of vaginal tissues,” adds Melinda Ring, MD, a clinical associate professor of medicine and executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. “This can cause discomfort, pain, and reduced elasticity during sexual activity, making intercourse less pleasurable and potentially leading to a decrease in sexual desire.” (Click through to our sister publication to see the best natural remedies for vaginal dryness.)
Since estrogen helps maintain a healthy blood flow to genital tissues, a reduction in the hormone amount can also lead to less arousal, says Dr. Ring. Another factor has to do with our brains. “Estrogen also influences the balance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood and sexual desire.”
2. Everyday stressors
As if dealing with menopausal hormone swings wasn’t enough, life little stressors can also impact your libido. “Your lower sex drive could have to do with the amount of stress you have in your life, the state of your romantic relationship, and how much sleep you’re getting,” notes Shawn Tassone, MD, PhD, a board-certified ob/gyn and integrative medicine physician in Austin, TX and author of The Hormone Balance Bible.
Women often experience personal life changes during midlife that cause stress, such as facing an empty nest when the kids move out or becoming a caretaker to a loved one. And If you’re not feeling emotionally connected to your partner or have unresolved conflicts, it can be a barrier to intimacy. A study in Menopause found 1 in 10 postmenopausal women experienced relationship conflicts or problems with their partners that influenced their levels of sexual activity.
Another common stressor: Lack of sleep. When you’re constantly tired, it can be hard to muster up an interest in sex. “If a woman isn’t sleeping because maybe she’s having night sweats or up thinking about all of the things she has to do the next day, she’s going to be fatigued and to have sleep on her mind, not sex,” says Anna Barbieri, MD, an ob/gyn and assistant clinical professor in the Raquel and Jaime Gilinski Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. (Hot flashes making it tough to snooze? Click through to our sister publication to discover how to sleep in the heat.)
3. Certain medications
More than 66% of adults in the US use prescription drugs. The hitch: Certain medications can negatively impact your libido. “Antidepressants, and those that are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in particular, are often widely prescribed to women in the menopausal age group, and one of the major side effects is a decreased libido,” says Dr. Barbieri.
A meta analysis by the Mayo Clinic found the most commonly reported adverse sexual effects in women taking antidepressants are problems with sexual arousal (83%) and sexual desire (72%). Some of the SSRI antidepressants cited in the study with a higher frequency of sexual dysfunction in women included citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), and sertraline (Zoloft). There were other non-SSRI antidepressants shown to have a greater link to sexual problems in women, too, including venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and paroxetine (Paxil).
SSRIs can increase your levels of serotonin, which lifts your mood. But too-high levels of the hormone serotonin can inhibit sexual desire, according to research in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Other medications that can impact a woman’s libido include certain anti-anxiety medications, steroids, anti-seizure medications, and blood pressure medications such as beta-blockers and diuretics, Dr. Barbieri says.
The 6 best natural remedies for women with a low libido
No matter what’s behind your diminished sex drive, there are natural fixes and lifestyle tweaks that can help restore your desire for intimacy. Experts agree these are some of the most effective.
1. Supplement with maca root
Maca root is a cruciferous vegetable native to Peru that’s related to the cabbage family. When it comes to increasing libido, maca root helps balance estrogen levels. According to a study in the International Journal of Biomedical Science, maca alleviates libido-sapping menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings and fatigue for up to 87% of women.
Maca root can also increase sex drive in women experiencing depression, especially those taking antidepressants. One study in Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine found postmenopausal women on antidepressants who took 3 grams of maca root a day for 12 weeks reported their sexual activity increased along with their enjoyment of sexual experiences.
Dr. Tassone often recommends maca root to his patients in supplement form. “I’m a big fan of maca, and probably 80% of the women I put on it say it’s really helped them,” he notes. A brand he recommends: Femmenessence MacaPause by Symphony Natural Health. (Buy from Amazon, $38.99). You can also buy maca root in powder form and add it to smoothies, oatmeal, or your favorite muffin recipe. One to try: Navita’s Organic Maca Powder (Buy from iHerb.com, $6.36).
2. Stroll around the block (or strike a yoga pose)
Not surprisingly, exercise helps most women feel better physically and mentally, which can lead to a more fulfilling sex life. In a study published in the journal Sexual Medicine Reviews, researchers found even a single bout of exercise improves a woman’s chances of becoming sexually aroused and increases sexual satisfaction. Exercise, especially aerobic activity, increases blood flow to the genital area, which is needed for arousal. And strength training improves muscle tone in the pelvis, abs, and upper thighs to improve sexual function, says the North American Menopause Society.
But you don’t have to break a sweat to increase your libido. “Yoga may help reduce stress, increase body awareness, and promote relaxation, all of which can contribute to a healthier libido,” says Dr. Ring. In fact, a study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found women who regularly practiced yoga scored higher on their levels of desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasm after 12 weeks. Nearly two-thirds of the study participants claimed more sexual satisfaction, and the biggest improvements in arousal and vaginal lubrication occurred in women over 45. Yoga poses in the study that were found to be effective include the triangle, snake, locust, and cat pose positions. Check out the video below for a 30-minute libido boosting yoga flow.
3. Take a slow, deep whiff of neroli oil
When it comes to natural remedies for women with a low libido, few are as enjoyable as taking a “sniff break” to inhale a sweet floral scent. Neroli oil comes from the bitter orange tree, Citrus aurantium var. amara. Its white blossoms have a citrusy “green” fragrance with a hint of honey and orange, according to The Perfume Society. “Neroli oil has been lauded as an aphrodisiac, and the smell has a sensual aspect to it,” says Dr. Tassone. “It can be very calming and used for massage, so it can set the tone.” When you use neroli oil in a sensual way, your brain will come to associate it with intimacy, Dr. Tassone says.
Case in point: A study in Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine found that when postmenopausal women inhaled the scent of neroli essential oil for 5 minutes twice a day, their sexual desire increased up to 270%. Another plus? The study suggests smelling neroli oil helps relieve other menopause-related symptoms, tame stress and lower blood pressure.
4. Boost your levels of B vitamins
Getting adequate levels of vitamins like B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, and minerals such as zinc are essential for overall health and sexual function, says Dr. Ring. “These nutrients play a role in energy production, mood regulation, and hormonal balance.”
The B vitamins that are especially associated with an increased sex drive are B12 (found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy), B3 (found in nuts, seeds, legumes, bananas and brown rice), and B6 (found in poultry, fish, potatoes, chickpeas and dark, leafy greens).
Dr. Ring also suggests including phytoestrogens, compounds that have a mild estrogen-like effect in the body, into your diet. “Foods such as flaxseeds, chickpeas, and lentils contain phytoestrogens that might help balance hormones and support sexual health,” she notes. (Click through more for 3 revitalizing flaxseed smoothies.)
And don’t forget omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Omega 3-fatty acids, found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines, walnuts, chia and flax seeds, may enhance blood flow and support overall cardiovascular health, which is important for sexual function, Dr. Ring says.
5. Supplement with saffron
If restless sleep is sapping your energy for intimacy, saffron (or Crocus sativus) can help. “Saffron is a very interesting herb, and it may it help to reduce depression and anxiety, and also improves sleep,” says Dr. Barbieri. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found women who took 14 mg. of a saffron extract known as affron twice daily improved their sleep quality, with most of these changes happening during the first seven days. (Click through to see how saffron works better than antidepressants to lift your mood and how affron can help you sleep.)
An in a separate study in the Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, women who supplement with saffron daily had a 62% improvement in sexual desire, lubrication, and satisfaction, compared to those who didn’t take saffron. While you can use saffron as a seasoning in rice, couscous, or a risotto, those amounts aren’t likely to provide enough to make a substantial difference, says Dr. Barbieri. A supplement is one of the better natural remedies for women dealing with a low libido. One to try: California Gold Nutrition, Saffron Extract with Affron (Buy from iHerb.com, $26.28).
6. Vent with likeminded women
While conversations about menopause and post-50 intimacy are starting to become more common, it wasn’t always that way. When women don’t feel like they have outlet, it can contribute to or intensify feelings of libido-hampering anxiety or depression. The bottom line: You no longer have to tough it out alone like your older female relatives did in the past.
“I once asked my grandmother how she felt going through menopause, and she asked ‘what was menopause?’” says Dr. Tassone. “I described it to her and she said, ‘oh we all just thought those were normal things and we didn’t complain about them, we just powered through.’ While I was impressed with her grit, I also felt like this could possibly be carried over into the newer generations, making them feel like they had to suffer too.”
A low libido can be difficult to discuss, but if you feel comfortable opening up about it, it could be beneficial to talk with others going through it, too. “Hopefully we can shift the perception about what sexuality should be, so it’s not that women should want to have sex all the time or that women past 50 are just done with having a sex life at this point,” says Dr. Barbieri. (Click through to our sister publication to see more natural ways to reverse a low libido caused by menopause.)
Where to find online and in-person support groups
Commiserating with other women can make a real difference when dealing with a low libido . Research shows menopausal women support groups improves the lives of women and promotes more positive emotional, physical, and sexual health. Looking for a safe, supportive place to start? Online forums such as RedHotMamas and Menopause ChitChat allow you to join the discussion about all things menopause. Another option: Head to Meetup.com to find menopause support groups nearby. Or simply check with your healthcare system or local hospital to see if they have a menopause support group. Many do!
More ways to dodge health hassles that can hamper your love life:
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