Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
When you think about sex drive, it’s not unlikely that you assume that men have more of an urge or desire than women (except maybe Samantha Jones). But what you may be surprised to learn is that while it is different when it comes to how to improve sex drive, men are not born with higher levels than women. “There is no difference in sex drive in men vs. women,” says Irwin Goldstein, a sexual medicine physician and the director of San Diego Sexual Medicine. “There are men with high sex drive, and there are women with high sex drive, and there are men with low sex drive and women with low sex drive.”
According to a recent study, one in ten women is “distressed” by low libido (or sexual desire). “Sexuality is an important aspect of our well-being, and in a healthy, romantic relationship, it’s as important as love and affection,” celebrity gynecologist Sherry A. Ross, MD, has told us. But when it comes down to it, having a low sexual desire is not a bad thing unless someone wishes they had more of it. The silver lining in all of this? “If you were once satisfied with your sex drive, and it has decreased, and it bothers you, it can be treated,” Goldstein says. So if you want to improve your sex drive, below are four expert-approved tips.
There’s no denying that going on the pill can sometimes lower your sex drive, so if you feel a drop in desire, it may be time to consider alternative options. “Oral contraceptives raise the sex hormone-binding globulin, decreasing free testosterone,” Goldstein says. But what does that mean? An increase in globulin means that your levels of “unbound” testosterone decrease, which can be responsible for decreased sexual interest and enjoyment. Instead of taking the pill, the doctor suggests long-acting reversible contraceptives instead, which include IUDs and injections.
Try sex therapy
“Desire is controlled in the brain, and sex therapy changes the brain over time,” Goldstein tells us. The doctor suggests mindfulness, sensate focus, or cognitive behavioral therapy, depending on what your therapist sees fit. As we’ve discussed, the practice of mindfulness means tuning out all the background noise and being present in the moment (one study on mindfulness as sex therapy for patients who had undergone hysterectomies reported positive results). On the other hand, cognitive behavioral therapy is more about therapist-led problem-solving, while sensate focus—exercises developed by sex therapists Masters and Johnson in the ’70s—looks to partners exploring intimacy through touch.
"Normalize" the hormonal environment
As we already discussed, desire is controlled in the brain. Testosterone can help improve the balance of the brain systems in excitation and inhibition, says Goldstein. These types of treatments must be conducted in a monitored setting by a medical professional—testosterone is given via a patch, injection, topical gel, pill, or even an implant. (We must note that at this point in time, testosterone treatments are still fairly controversial and can also come with their fair share of side effects).
Take a "libido-boosting" prescription
Flibanserin—what the doctor says is the only FDA-approved sex-boosting prescription treatment for women out there—is also known as its brand name, Addyi. Goldstein says that its effects are similar to increasing testosterone in the sense that the medication helps increase excitement and decrease inhibition in a woman’s brain. Although many people think of Addyi as the “female Viagra,” there are quite a few differences. First, the medication needs to be taken daily (not just before sex), and women can’t drink alcohol while using it. Also important to note: It works on neurotransmitters in the brain, so it’s not effective for all women (Viagra specifically increases blood flow to the penis and reportedly works almost 100% of the time).
What do you think about these tips for how to improve sex drive? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.