Libido is one of those bodily functions we unfortunately aren’t able to put a measurable numeric value on. The way libido is monitored is by referring to it as either low or high. Many biological, social, and psychological factors can affect sex drive, so it’s important to take a full inventory when trying to source the route of any libido related issue.
This post will delve into the hormones that drive sex, how they affect libido, the differences between male and female sex hormones, and how the menstrual cycle causes libido changes.
Testosterone is without a doubt the most influential hormone when it comes to sexual desire. Although common understanding may lead some to believe that testosterone is a male hormone, it is actually, like estrogen, present in both males and females – though the proportions are of course different. Testosterone is even produced differently in men than it is in women, with all of a woman’s testosterone coming from the adrenals glands and ovaries vs the testes in a man.
Hormonal changes like the menstrual cycle and menopause are normal parts of development, so hormonal changes are not necessarily indicative of a problem.
There are, however, reasons you may want to explore options like changing/altering medications or perhaps bio-identical hormone optimization therapy – one being if you experience a drop in libido or the pleasure you get from sex.
Some things that can affect hormone levels:
Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormone levels fluctuate. Libido actually commonly spikes before and around ovulation, and there is typically another, smaller spike during menstruation. Libido is at its lowest usually before menstruation, though these are just reported norms – your body may fluctuate differently, and that’s okay too!
Postmenopausal women, and many women using hormonal birth control methods, have less variation in sexual desire.
Hormonal Birth Control Methods i.e. The Pill
Ironically, hormonal methods of contraception like the pill, the patch, or vaginal inserts may affect libido and sexual function because they do their job by way of suppressing the natural cycle of hormones in the body.
For some women, birth control can cause libido to increase, while others may experience a decrease in desire. Some may find it more difficult to achieve orgasm, or possibly develop vaginal dryness. The effects vary pretty dramatically from woman to woman.
Levels of estrogen and progesterone increase during pregnancy. Along with an increase in blood flow to the genitals, these changes can lead to increased desire. Alternatively, common symptoms of pregnancy include fatigue, pain, and nausea, which in combination with body changes and self-image, may extinguish libido.
Women often experience a dip in libido while in the nursing phase. Some have no drive whatsoever and become unable to achieve orgasm. This is a normal occurrence and often libido will return once the baby is nursing less or no longer.
During perimenopause — the years leading up to menopause — estrogen levels spike and fall erratically while progesterone levels decline. After menopause — which occurs when menstrual periods have stopped for a full year — both progesterone and estrogen steady out at low levels.
During these years, women may experience less desire and increased vaginal dryness. Using a lubricant can help. Hormonal supplements such as estrogen cream applied topically to the vagina, are sometimes used to address dryness.
Some women report that the relief from the fear of pregnancy encourages new-found sexual freedom.