The sexual wellness business is booming. As something that plays a key role in our overall health and happiness, prioritising pleasure and nurturing your libido is no longer taboo—it’s an act of self-care.
Just like all things pertaining to our health, certain lifestyle habits can influence our libido, with mental and social factors also playing an integral part.
Of course, it’s completely normal to experience ebbs and flows of sexual desire at different times. Whether effected by hormonal changes, age, stress or diet, understanding what contributes to your libido (and what may cause changes) can help you to make sense of your sex drive.
With the help of sexologist Isiah McKimmie, here is the lowdown on your libido.
First things first, what is our libido?
The world libido is used to describe sexual desire or the level of sexual desire. Also known as our sex drive.
Does our libido change much as we age?
Studies indicate that both men and women experience a decline in libido as they get older. One study found that libido in men aged 40-60 years was three times lower than men aged 18-29 years, due to a steady 1% decrease in testosterone per year.
And although women can also experience a lower libido as they get older, reports have found age not to be such a simple answer. Rather, it’s causative factors such as postmenopausal vaginal symptoms, erectile dysfunction in male partners, fatigue and bodily pain, life stressors, and body image concerns that are found to contribute.
At what age is our libido at the highest? Does it differ for men and women?
There is conflicting evidence when it comes to identifying the stage of life when libido is at its highest.
In his studies on human sexual behaviour, researcher Alfred Kinsey found that women reach their peak orgasmic frequency in their thirties and have a constant level of sexual capacity up to the age of 55. Whereas men were reported to reach their orgasmic peak from 17-18, with testosterone levels declining as early as their twenties.
However, in more recent studies from the Kingsey Institute, people report higher levels of sexual satisfaction as they get older. This doesn’t necessarily mean their libido has increased but rather indicates the level of contentment with their sex lives. Therefore, it is impractical to pinpoint a time when a person may be at their sexual peak.
When women reach menopause, what influence can this have on the libido?
“The role menopause plays in libido can be different for different women,” says McKimmie. “Some women report losing libido, some report it increasing, and others notice very little change.”
“For some women, the freedom of worry from becoming pregnant helps increase their libido. For other women, issues related to menopause such as reduced lubrication, thinning of the skin in the vagina, bodily discomfort and changed perception of self can reduce libido.”
Lifestyle and health factors that can affect our libido
“Sexologists use a biopsychosocial model when discussing sexual issues including libido. Essentially, we understand that biological, psychological and social factors will all impact sexual function and enjoyment,” explains McKimmie.
“It’s helpful to consider sexual desire like a car—with brakes and accelerators. Brakes will get in the way of desire and accelerators will increase it. But the accelerators won’t work while the brakes are on. So to increase desire levels, we need to remove brakes and increase accelerators.”
Libido brakes include:
–Tiredness & energy levels
–Body image & pain
–Relationship arguments & status
–Negative sexual beliefs & past experiences
The link between our gut health and libido
Libido is something that can be helped greatly by working on your mindset and relationships, but also your health.
Studies have shown that gut health issues (such as leaky gut) can contribute to imbalances in our mood, including depression, which can have a profound effect on our libido. In fact, one study found that 62.5% of people with mild-to-moderate grades of depression experience decreased sexual desire.
Nourishing your gut microbiome with a wholefood-based, fibre-rich diet can not only boost your mood but assist in alleviating some of the top sexual breaks, including tiredness, energy levels and stress.
Learning to manage stress better through regular exercise, meditation and other acts of self-care is also beneficial. Not to mention, sex itself is known to have a positive impact on stress levels.