Posted on March 6, 2015
Spring is just around the corner and with it comes spring fever! Spring fever is a term used to describe the renewed energy and vitality, positive effect on moods and subsequent increase in libido (sex drive) that many experience with the onset of warmer, brighter days. Unfortunately, for some women, a change of seasons just isn't enough. Decreased libido is defined as a lack of interest in and desire for ANY type of sexual activity, including masturbation and sexual fantasies/thoughts. Decreased libido is a complex issue and usually there are multiple factors at play in any given women’s situation.
It is normal for libido to ebb and flow throughout a woman’s life. Typically, the hormonal fluctuations experienced during and after pregnancy/breastfeeding, the use of hormonal contraception or the natural decline in reproductive hormones associated with menopause is to blame. It cannot be overstated that it is absolutely normal for libido to decline with age, especially at menopause, a time after which many women report a markedly diminished or even completely nonexistent sex drive. The drop in reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) accompanying menopause influences libido directly and indirectly by failing to provide continued hormonal support of the reproductive tract. The lack of estrogen, for example, leads to thinner, dryer, less elastic vaginal walls, a phenomenon referred to as atrophy. Atrophy can result in painful intercourse despite the use of lubricants and can become progressive. Pain with intercourse negatively reinforces a woman’s desire to engage in future sexual behavior. Adjusting hormonal/contraceptive medications, “balancing” and replacing hormones systemically (throughout the body) or locally (in the vagina) are strategies that are used by gynecologists to optimize female sexual health.
However, solely addressing hormones would be negligent as there are many other factors to consider when evaluating the possible cause(s) of decreased libido. It is helpful to remember the following acronym: SPIRIT.
Discussing decreased libido can be very embarrassing for women. Often they feel something is "wrong" with them. Developing a relationship with a physician that specializes in female sexual health should allow a woman to comfortably express her concerns. The patient, with the help of her trusted physician, can then identify the factors at play and design an optimal treatment approach.
Nadine Antonelli, MD