Low libido, or low sex drive, refers to a lack of interest in sexual activity and intimacy. Many men experience periods of low libido at some point in their lives, which can be frustrating, concerning, and detrimental to relationships. According to research, over 30% of men report ongoing problems with lowered libido. This common issue can be caused by a complex interplay of hormonal, physical, psychological factors. Low libido can significantly diminish one's quality of life and self-esteem. The good news is that in most cases, low male libido can be improved with treatment of underlying health issues, medications, supplements, lifestyle changes, or therapy.
This guide will comprehensively cover what the leading causes of low libido in men, how the condition is diagnosed, and the most effective treatment options available.
Main Causes of Low Libido in Men
Low testosterone levels, chronic health problems, mental health issues, and lifestyle factors can all contribute to decreased libido in men. Understanding the root cause is key to finding the appropriate solution. Here are some of the top reasons men experience low sex drive:
Declining Testosterone Levels
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone essential for sexual desire, arousal, and performance. Testosterone levels peak in a man’s late teens and 20s, after which they naturally decline about 1% each year. Low testosterone, or “low T,” is one of the most common medical causes of reduced libido in men over 30. Symptoms include low energy, decreased muscle mass, weight gain, irritability, and weaker erections in addition to low sex drive. Testosterone blood testing can confirm if low T is responsible. Testosterone replacement therapy through gels, patches, pellets or injections can improve libido in men with deficient levels.
High Prolactin Levels
Prolactin is a hormone that enables breast milk production in women after childbirth. But elevated prolactin levels in men can suppress testosterone and cause low libido, infertility and erectile dysfunction. Hormonal disorders, medications, thyroid problems or tumors on the pituitary gland can spur high prolactin. Blood testing measures prolactin levels, and medication can lower elevated amounts and relieve symptoms.
The thyroid gland controls metabolism and energy levels in the body. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is a common cause of hormone imbalance in men over 50. In addition to fatigue, weight gain and feeling cold, hypothyroidism can depress testosterone levels and sexual desire. Hyperthyroidism has the opposite effect, speeding up metabolism such that energy and appetite for sex are reduced. Treating the underlying thyroid disorder restores hormone balance and libido.
Certain chronic health problems that are more prevalent in older men can contribute to low libido by impacting hormonal balance, circulation, nerve functioning, energy levels and mental health.
Being significantly overweight decreases total and free testosterone levels while increasing estrogen. This hormonal imbalance reduces sex drive. Obesity also increases inflammation, which interferes with vascular functioning essential for arousal and erection. Losing weight can increase sex hormones and libido.
Poorly controlled diabetes can reduce blood flow and nerve sensitivity in the genitals, resulting in low libido as well as erectile dysfunction. Men with diabetes also have lower testosterone on average. Getting blood sugar under control and using treatments like Viagra or Cialis to improve erectile function can alleviate libido issues.
Conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atherosclerosis restrict blood flow to tissues and organs, including the reproductive system. This vascular insufficiency can dampen arousal, sexual sensation and erectile function, which diminishes sex drive. Treating the underlying heart issues can improve blood flow and libido.
The discomfort, fatigue and mobility impairment accompanying chronic pain syndromes like arthritis, back problems and neuropathy can understandably dampen libido. Pain also increases psychological distress. A holistic approach that uses pain medication, physical therapy, stress reduction techniques and testosterone therapy in some cases can help increase sex drive.
Sleep apnea starves the brain of oxygen at night and causes severe fatigue, contributing to low libido. It also elevates prolactin and lowers testosterone. Using a CPAP machine to treat sleep apnea, along with testosterone supplements if indicated, can restore healthy sleep patterns and hormone balance to increase sex drive.
Many common prescription medications have side effects that suppress libido. These include:
SSRIs like Prozac, Lexapro and Zoloft work by increasing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. But higher serotonin can also reduce sex drive and ability to orgasm. This side effect often improves by switching to a different drug like buproprion (Wellbutrin) or adding medication like Buspar.
Blood Pressure Medications
Drugs like thiazide diuretics and beta blockers reduce blood pressure but also suppress testosterone and sexual function. ACE inhibitors like lisinopril are less likely to cause low libido. Switching drugs or adding testosterone therapy can offset the sexual side effects.
Narcotic analgesics like hydrocodone repress testosterone production and dopamine, a brain chemical crucial for arousal and sexual reward. Reducing or changing pain medication and adding hormone treatments can alleviate this.
Allergy and cold medications like Benadryl, Claritin and Chlor-Trimeton block histamine. Unfortunately, histamine is also key for arousal and orgasm. Using alternative allergy treatments or short-acting decongestants lessens sexual side effects.
Hair Loss Treatments
The 5-alpha reductase inhibitors finasteride and dutasteride hamper conversion of testosterone into DHT to prevent male pattern baldness. But lower DHT can reduce sex drive. Some men convert to using minoxidil for hair regrowth to avoid this sexual side effect.
Mental health and emotional problems take a severe toll on libido in many men. Major causes include:
The chronic tension of high-pressure careers, financial strain, responsibilities or traumatic events floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline. This suppresses the sex drive-boosting effects of testosterone. Reducing sources of stress through work-life balance, therapy or medication can help restore libido.
Depression drains energy, motivation and self-esteem needed to feel sexual. It also causes physical changes in the brain that inhibit arousal and pleasure. Treating depression with medications like SSRIs or SNRIs combined with therapy significantly improves libido in most men.
Performance anxiety about erectile dysfunction or satisfying a partner during sex is one of the most common psychological barriers to male libido. Counseling and medications to reduce this anxiety can help men relax, regain confidence and reconnect with their spontaneous desire.
Poor Body Image
Struggles with weight, muscle loss from aging or comparing oneself to unrealistic media images of men can damage self-image. Feelings of being unattractive or undesirable then deter men from initiating or enjoying sex. Therapy and self-care often improves body image and rekindles libido.
Unhealthy lifestyle habits disturb hormone levels, energy levels, circulation and emotional wellbeing. Key lifestyle causes of lowered libido in men include:
Chronic heavy drinking suppresses testosterone and spurs erectile dysfunction. Marijuana decreases sperm count and fertility. Ecstasy, heroin, opioids and other illicit drugs also dampen the sex drive over time. Reducing substance use often rapidly improves libido.
Like alcohol abuse, tobacco use constricts blood vessels, impairs blood flow and increases risk of erectile dysfunction. Smoking also raises estrogen levels, further reducing libido. Quitting smoking and nicotine products often reverses these effects quickly.
Lack of Exercise
Regular exercise enhances arousal, sexual performance, energy and self-image due to boosted blood flow and testosterone combined with lower stress and depression. Sedentary men are more prone to low libido. Start an active exercise routine to lift your libido.
Being deficient in zinc, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients essential for testosterone production depresses sex drive. Eating a nutritious, balanced diet prevents nutritional deficiencies that contribute to low libido.
Insomnia, sleep apnea and other disturbances lead to hormonal imbalances and increased stress that stifle libido and sexual function. Getting 7-9 hours of quality, restful sleep nightly is optimal for maintaining a healthy sex drive.
Diagnosing the Cause of Low Libido
If you are struggling with ongoing low libido, it is important to see your doctor to identify potential underlying causes. Diagnostic tests your physician may use include:
Physical Exam - Checks your genitals and performs a digital rectal exam to assess anatomical issues. Measures vitals that may point to health conditions impacting libido.
Blood Tests - Assess testosterone, thyroid and glucose levels that influence sex drive when abnormal. Also diagnoses medical conditions like high cholesterol contributing to low libido.
Questionnaires - Validated questionnaires like the Sexual Health Inventory for Men can identify the severity of low libido and factors like stress, relationship satisfaction and depression that affect it.
Pinpointing the reasons behind your low libido guides appropriate treatment to rekindle your sex drive.
The good news is low libido is highly treatable in most instances with various medical therapies, lifestyle improvements and holistic approaches. Potential solutions include:
Testosterone Replacement Therapy
If blood tests confirm clinically low testosterone, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) involving gels, patches, injections or pellets can effectively raise levels and libido. However, TRT has some risks like blood clots and sleep apnea and requires ongoing monitoring.
Addressing Underlying Health Issues
Treating conditions like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, pain and cardiovascular disease that impair blood flow, nerve function and hormone balance may resolve associated low libido.
Switching to alternative medications without sexual side effects, adding adjunct drugs or reducing dosages under medical supervision may reverse libido-lowering effects.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), mindfulness, couples counseling and sex therapy help manage contributing mental health issues and relationship problems.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits regarding exercise, diet, sleep, stress management and alcohol/drug use optimizes hormone levels and sexual functioning.
Supplements like Tribulus terrestris, schizandra, cistanche, panax ginseng and horny goat weed may potentially stimulate libido by improving testosterone, circulation or arousal. However, scientific evidence of their efficacy requires further research.
Devices like erectile dysfunction pumps and vibrators can aid sexual arousal and performance, giving men confidence to reconnect with their sexuality.
In summary, low libido is a troubling sexual health issue affecting a significant number of men. Declining testosterone levels, chronic health conditions, medications, mental health problems and lifestyle habits are major contributors to decreased sex drive. Diagnosing the underlying cause through lab tests, physical exams and questionnaires is the first step. Correcting hormonal imbalances, optimizing health, adjusting medications, addressing psychological factors and adopting healthy lifestyles are effective approaches to relieving low male libido. For many men, a multi-pronged treatment strategy produces the best results. Renewing sexual desire and intimacy greatly improves one's quality of life, relationships and self-esteem. Don't lose hope - solutions are available to successfully reignite your sex drive.
What is a normal libido for a man?
There is no normal level of libido, as sex drive varies between individuals. In general, having sexual thoughts or interest in sex 1-2 times per week is considered a healthy libido. Concerns about abnormally low male libido typically involve a lack of interest in sex for several months.
At what age does a man's libido decrease?
Testosterone levels, and accordingly libido, start to gradually decline after age 30 at a rate of about 1% per year. More significant decreases in male sex drive commonly occur after age 50 due to declining testosterone. Low libido should not be viewed as an inevitable result of aging, however.
Can low libido be cured?
In many cases, yes - low libido in men is highly treatable. Testosterone therapy, medications, supplements, medical devices, lifestyle changes, counseling and addressing health conditions can all help reverse low sex drive when the proper treatment regimen is followed.
What foods increase libido in males?
Foods high in zinc like oysters, spinach and pumpkin seeds boost testosterone. Bananas, avocados and nuts provide potassium and heart-healthy fats that improve blood flow. Chili peppers and ginseng also increase blood circulation. Lean proteins, fruits and vegetables enhance energy and stamina.
How can I instantly increase my libido?
While there are no instant solutions, practices like reducing alcohol, taking a warm bath, exercising, massaging testosterone gel into the thighs, or watching pornography may temporarily heighten sexual arousal in the moment when you want to increase libido quickly. However, addressing the root causes leads to more lasting improvement.