Let’s start with the facts.
Upwards of 50% of women will experience a low sex drive at some point in their life. In fact, studies suggest around 50% of women will experience low sex drive each year. So, if you’re someone experiencing low desire, it looks like you’re in good company.
Considering how prevalent low libido is, historically, research into why women experience low desire has been pretty sparse. For years, science has repeatedly blamed low testosterone levels in women as the main cause.
While various research projects have backed this up, several studies have also proven the exact opposite. For example, one study compared testosterone levels in women who have a high sex drive with women diagnosed with a desire disorder and reported no difference.
With that in mind, it remains a mystery why doctors and women continue to ask for testosterone treatment for low libido. Namely, the popularity of the drug Addyi (nicknamed the “female viagra”) for treating a low sex drive. It’s even crazier when you learn that the success only raises libido levels by 0.5% (equivalent to an allergy drug stopping one sneeze a month*).
Low sexual desire isn’t just caused by hormones, although hormones can in part play a role. Both women and men experience dips in desire for many different reasons, the birth of a child, the time in their life, relationship conflict, even the context of the moment. So, while Addyi (or flibanserin) may be useful for women with low levels of serotonin or dopamine, for the vast majority of women it won’t address the main issue.
Such interest in testosterone treatments in part needs to be understood in the context of what is considered a “normal sex drive”. Which historically has been focused on the idea that men have healthier levels of desire, and therefore the issue is resolved by comparing men with women.
Why do women experience low sexual desire?
Given this, what exactly is the cause of low sex drive in women? Again, this is a topic that is heavily under-researched. Buuut, a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior has revealed some new information.
In their study, they argued that women with low desire fall into two categories - "globally distressed" and "sexually dissatisfied". It sounds scary, but it makes sense. Let us explain!
The “globally distressed” category refers to women who had relationship issues that interfered not just with their sexual relationship, but their non-sexual relationships too. The women in this group reported high levels of life stress - and overall, 8% of women from the study fell into this category.
Whereas, the other category, “sexually dissatisfied” was defined by women who had low sexual dissatisfaction but were overall happy within their relationship. This group reported slightly higher levels of relationship happiness in comparison to the “Globally Distressed” group. Yet according to the Quality of Marriage Index, they still sat in the low-average range. For these women, the main issue was their sexual relationship. Overall, 24% of women were in this category.
Finally, the last group was labeled “Average Desire”. This group was for those who had “normal” levels of desire and were generally happy with their relationships. Out of the 508 women surveyed, most women were in this category (67%).
So, what does this report tell us?
The study reveals that there is more complexity within low desire among women and that low sexual desire is a symptom - rather than a cause of other problems within their life.
Therefore, when looking for treatments for low desire, treatments need to reflect the nuance of causes of low libido in women. While hormonal treatment may be effective for some women, it also does not adequately address the other external factors within the woman’s life which are causing them distress.
If we look at this in the context of sexual therapy, it points out that addressing the issue of low sexual desire as an individual problem can sometimes fail to address the other half of the problem. Say, relationship conflict. Low desire can manifest itself in many different forms, and to solely focus on treating the female can fail to address the other half of the issue. Be that relationship conflict, dealing with an illness, work stress or generally life getting in the way.
On the Lover app, visit our Driving Up Desire and Passion For Your Partner for more information on how you can get your desire back on track.