You’ve no doubt heard people throw around terms like “high sex drive” or “low sex drive”…and have probably also seen plenty of pop cultural portrayals of the cliche of men having a higher sex drive than women. But what does having a high sex drive ~actually~ mean? Simply put, it’s “a strong desire to engage in sexual activity,” says Shannon Chavez, PsyD, a psychologist and sex therapist in Los Angeles.
As for that stereotype that men are always in the mood and women never are? It’s not entirely unfounded. But it definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. A 1991 sexual desire questionnaire found that men, overall, did experience sexual desire more than women. But…that was in 1991! And it was a pretty small sample size of 58 men and 86 women between 18 and 54 years old.
Today, that picture of gendered sex drives has changed.
“There are no norms, and every person is different,” says Dr. Chavez. “Our libido also changes daily, so it’s better to understand how to cope with the changes rather than make assumptions about the highs and lows.”
Factors That Affect Your Sex Drive
Your body chemistry is a biggie here: testosterone, often thought of as the “male” hormone, and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects your sensation of pleasure, both affect your sex drive, says Dr. Chavez. “I also find that people that are more active and athletic tend to have higher libidos, while people dealing with health concerns can see a major dips in libido—or a roller-coaster effect of ups and downs,” she adds.
Your libido can even change based on what time of the month it is. “Women experience a higher sex drive around ovulation, when hormone levels are changing,” Dr. Chavez explains. Meanwhile, once you experience menopause, you may notice a drop in libido because of the changes that are happening with your hormones there.
What Does It Mean To Have a ‘Normal’ Sex Drive?
What is normal, really? “Normal” when used in this context is going to be different for each individual, says Dr. Chavez. One person’s definition of a normal sex drive might be completely different than another’s—or their partner’s. The important thing is to find what works for you, be aware of it, and communicate that to your partner if you have one.
There is, however, cause for concern when sex begins to take over your life. If your day-to-day routine is suddenly interrupted by constant thoughts of sex or obsessive masturbating, for example, that’s a problem. If the opposite is happening and you’re feeling less motivation for sex than usual, then it’s time to take a look at some factors that might be causing this.
Reasons You Might Experience Low Libido
First off, let’s just get those rumors about age and sex drive out of the way. Dr. Chavez says that there is absolutely no connection between someone’s age and how much they desire sex. She says it has much more to do with your physical, emotional, and mental health, how well you take care of of them, and how much stress is in your life.
Not exactly a big shocker here: Stress can be a major downer on sex drive. If you’re going through a particularly tough time at work, in a relationship, or in a friendship, your body is going to respond to that. You might not be feeling particularly sexy in those cases, so Dr. Chavez recommends resting or taking some time alone to do whatever makes you feel good.
“You need to take care of your body in order to have the energy, confidence, and motivation to be sexual with self and a partner,” Dr. Chavez says.
Autoimmune diseases also have an effect on libido. Endometriosis, for example, causes an imbalance in hormones. Dr. Chavez says that working with a gynecologist who is in the know about how to properly treat these conditions will be helpful overall.
The postpartum period can also cause a big shift in hormones. Conditions like postpartum blues or postpartum depression, combined with the physical stresses that bodies endure during pregnancy and labor, can strongly affect sex drive.
Dr. Chavez says that her clients have needed anywhere from six months to a year to get back to normal sexually, and the best thing to do is to have patience. Everyone is going to be different. Here’s where she says focusing on general intimacy, not just sex, can help fulfill a couple’s needs.
Dr. Chavez says that antidepressants, or SSRIs, may also cause libido to dip. She’s also seen this with some birth control, heart, and blood pressure medications. Even allergy medications can cause dryness in mucus membranes and cause people to feel less sexy.
Reasons You Might Experience A High Sex Drive
Worried your sex drive might be too high? Unless you feel like your libido has led to a lack of control that is hindering your life in other ways, you probably don’t need to worry. “You’ll know if your high sex drive is an issue if it is accompanied by shame, isolation, and low self-esteem,” says Dr. Chavez. She adds that it’s best for everyone to stay in tune with their bodies; if something feels off, that’s when you might want to consult an expert.
One thing that Dr. Chavez says can have an effect on libido is diet and exercise. People who have highly active lives and tend to prioritize nutrition in their diets also tend to have more energy and, thus, a higher sex drive.That high sex drive might just be your normal. If your sex drive is suddenly higher than your baseline, though, this might be time to assess whether you are using sex to cope with what’s bothering you. The underlying concern could be depression or anxiety, and that’s something that needs to be handled on its own, Dr. Chavez adds.
How To Level Out Your Libido
“Uneven desire is the most common sexual concern I see in my practice,” says Dr. Chavez. “People want to know what’s normal and how to match their partner’s libido. I discourage the goal of matching a partner’s libido and instead focus on helping couples meet their needs with one another, despite the differences, while learning to communicate effectively with one another about their sexual needs and desires.”
To do that, Dr. Chavez recommends talking to your partner about what you’re craving in the bedroom, encouraging them to share what they want, and trying to find a way to meet in the middle.
If you’re the partner with the high sex drive, Chavez suggests thinking about sources of pleasure other than sex with a partner that might help satisfy some of your urges. Interestingly, she says finding a creative outlet might help dampen your sex drive a bit. (Painting class, here you come!)
“I also encourage all clients to masturbate as a way to learn to pleasure your own body and help reduce shame around self-stimulation,” she says. “It’s an effective way to put your sexual needs in your own hands—literally.”
If you’re single and struggling with a high sex drive, patience is truly the name of the game. Dr. Chavez recommends that people who don’t have partners also seek different creative outlets for their sexual energy—and again, she says masturbation is helpful.
If you’re the partner with the lower libido, communication is still key, says Chavez, who recommends talking with your S.O. about something that feels good to you either when you’re masturbating or when you’re together sexually. Being open to new sexual experiences is also key, she says.
“Explore with a partner different ways to give and receive pleasure that are creative and new, as novelty is important for sparking sexual desire” says Dr. Chavez.
And of course, if you’re concerned about changes in your sex drive, consulting a doctor or sex therapist is never a bad idea.