When it comes to sex in the United States, we’re facing a bit of a dry spell. Two recent studies published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that people are having less sex today than they were just a decade ago, and heterosexual women are having fewer orgasms than any other demographic.
Despite all this, experts say (and research shows) that a healthy sex life is good for our overall well-being. In fact, some say it can be a vital part of self-care and that a decrease in your sex drive should be discussed with a doctor.
“As a medical profession [OB-GYNs] are trying to be more sex-positive and encourage more open conversations about sex and the problems that can come up with sex in order to help people achieve a holistic and fulfilled sexual life,” said Kelly Treder, an instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Boston University School of Medicine.
But it’s not just women who are experiencing lower interest in sex.
“This is a sexual state of emergency,” said Alisa Vitti, a functional nutritionist and author of WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. “[Women] internalize that we must be the only ones, and this is so uncommon for us to feel this way, but the fact of the matter is that everyone is struggling [with their sex drive] and it’s much more common than we think.”
Since a positive, satisfying sex life comes with a host of benefits ― think improved mood, lower stress and more ― it might make sense to examine how to improve it. Curious how you can revamp yours so it’s healthier and more fulfilling? Here’s where to start, according to experts:
Identify if something is squashing your sex drive
If you suspect your sex drive is low (or lower than it used to be), it’s important to identify why that might be before you take a course of action. Vitti said there are a few common health-related culprits when it comes to your libido. They include:
Hormonal birth control: A study published in the Journal of Sex Medicine found that any type of hormonal birth control (such as the pill, IUD or implant) can suppress libido, and in some cases, permanently alter a user’s ability to have a quality conversion of testosterone (one of the hormones responsible for keeping your libido humming) even after they go off of birth control.
Low testosterone: Speaking of testosterone, a lack of it is one of the major contributors to a low sex drive in men. Talk to your doctor if you feel like you aren’t feeling in the mood; they can check your levels and provide the appropriate options.
Certain medications: Antidepressants as well as pain-killing drugs, some blood pressure medications and treatments for cancer may cause issues with sex and sex drive. If you suspect this is the cause of your low libido, see your doctor about possible workarounds. (Whatever you do, don’t stop taking prescribed medications without talking to someone.)
Mental health conditions: Certain mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, as well as trauma, are known for causing stress around sex or a lack of interest in it. If you’re experiencing a mental health condition and you believe it’s affecting your sex life, it’s worth bringing it up with a therapist or physician.
Pre-existing health problems: For women, conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, endometriosis and irregular cycles are all known to cause issues with sex, and you’ll need to treat these conditions in order to help, Vitti said. Chronic illnesses can also mess with your sex drive.
Not exercising enough: This doesn’t mean you have to train for a marathon, but regular exercise can help you get aroused more easily, as studies show.
Having an iron deficiency: Research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that low iron levels in females can cause anxiety that leads to lower sexual function.
Keep in mind that while this is a list of the most common issues, there are other reasons that may be responsible for you not wanting to have sex, and it doesn’t have to just be a low libido. This is particularly true for women, Treder said.
“Sexuality is very complex, and women can have loss of desire, impairments becoming aroused or having orgasms or pain with sex,” Treder said. “Women can also have more than one of these at the same time, but many of these issues are treatable with care from a doctor, so you need to bring them up.”
Keep your sex life healthy by being safe
Along with addressing any concerns with your doctor, a part of having a healthy sex life is making sure you stay protected from any sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, Treder said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all sexually active individuals generally get tested for STIs as a way to protect their health. According to the CDC, all people ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV. Women under the age of 25 who are sexually active should be screened for chlamydia, as well as older women who are at a higher risk for contracting the infection, like having multiple sexual partners. The CDC also recommends all sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men get a screening at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Remember that a ‘normal’ sex life can mean different things to different people
Most importantly, both experts stress the importance of having sex when you want to. No one person’s sex life looks the same as someone else’s, so don’t pressure yourself based on your peers or what you think you should be doing.
That being said, it’s important to pay attention to your body and your mind. It’s one thing if you’re just not in the mood, but it’s another if you’re not feeling any desire at all ― and consistently. This doesn’t mean you’re inadequate, Vitti said.
″Women are harsh critics of themselves, and without the right information it can feel as if something’s wrong or you’re never good enough,” Vitti said.
This is also true for men. Overall low sexual desire ― an issue that’s primarily assumed to be associated with women ― can easily affect men, particularly those who are in poor physical or emotional shape, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that 43 percent of women experience sexual dysfunction, and men are close behind at 31 percent. Additionally, sexual-health conditions like erectile dysfunction are pretty common, with the risk increasing as you age, according to research.
This is all to say that a decreased sex drive doesn’t discriminate with respect to gender, age or ethnicity, so it’s important to bring up with your doctor if it’s something you’re suddenly experiencing.
And as far as hitting the sheets more regularly, both Treder and Vitti said the best thing to do to make sure you’re having sex as much as you want is to schedule it. Make it a priority and set an intention to have sex when you know you’re most likely to enjoy it. As a result, you’ll find it’s much more fun, and may just set it as a recurring event in your Google Cal indefinitely.