It’s the set-up of a million jokes: a man is in bed with his wife, and she’s turned on her side saying “Not tonight, honey, I have a headache.” The cliche of married sex life is that the woman will gradually lose her libido, while the husband remains a horny teenager well into his 80s.
The stereotype is nonsense—for a start, men can lose their libidos for any number of reasons. men can be just as horny as men. That said, there are women who suffer from a gradual or sudden loss of libido. The reasons are many, and here are six of the most common.
Stress is a major libido killer for both genders. But women are often socialized to take care of others before they take care of themselves. As a result, they can sometimes view sex as just another task or chore on their already long list of tasks and chores. And who wants to do chores?
Stress also increases cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is the hormone that our bodies release in response to stress and it’s actually designed to put a zap on your sexual impulses. It’s kind of an evolutionary insurance policy from our earliest days on the African veldt, when doing the deed could be interrupted at any time by various predators. Cortisol (along with a couple other biological responses) helps to flip the switch from “fuck” to “run.”
Back then, our far ancestors were probably running from big cats. While most of us aren’t facing lions these days, long term stress can still raise cortisol levels and affect libido. So it may be worth asking your wife if there are any stressful tasks you can take off her plate.
There are other hormones at play when it comes to libido, aside from cortisol. The most obvious one? Testosterone.
Testosterone is primarily associated with men and male sex drive, but it’s actually a major factor for female sex drive as well. If your wife is experiencing low sex drive, it may be worth it to suggest she get her testosterone levels checked.
Women who aren’t on hormonal birth control — more commonly known as the pill — experience a rise and fall of different reproductive hormones throughout their cycle. Many women experience a peak of libido during ovulation, which happens in the middle of the one-month menstrual cycle. Others enjoy sex right before their period starts. If your wife tracks her cycle, she may be able to give you some insight into when she’s going to be most — and least — in the mood.
Fun fact: Recent studies suggest that monogamy may kill sex drive for women more often than it does for men. Psychologist Esther Perel points to the fact that women “tend to lose their interest in a shorter amount of time and rather precipitously,” whereas men’s drop in libido over the long term tends to be more gradual.
Maybe it’s time to switch it up a little bit?
Lack of Sex
While men experience a refractory period after sex that can last anywhere from a minute to weeks, women don’t. And many women find that having sex actually makes them want to have more sex. But on the flip side, not having sex for a long time may make them less interested in sex. I know it’s confusing, because it’s basically the opposite of how many men experience sex drive, but it’s true. Your wife has definitely talked about this with her friends.
Different medications can affect libido differently. Some anti-depressants, for example, are notorious for suppressing sex drive. Many women also experience issues with libido as a result of hormonal birth control. (Ironic, I know.) So if your wife has recently changed medications or started on a new medication and noticed a drop in libido, medication could be the culprit.
With all of that said, it’s important to note that sometimes libidos just change. If both you and your partner are okay with a lower libido, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if it’s a problem for either of you? Keep working at it. With open communication and a lot of trust, you can get there.