When a woman loses her desire for sex, it’s not just in her head. The loss of sexual desire is the most common sexual health problem among women regardless of age. A recent study suggests that about a third of women aged 18 to 59 are suffering from a loss of interest in sex, also known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). Many factors may be attributed to a lack of sexual desire and drive in women including:
- Interpersonal relationship issues including partner performance problems, lack of emotional satisfaction in the relationship, the birth of a child, and becoming a caregiver for a sickly loved one can decrease sexual desire.
- Socio-cultural or career factors including job stress, peer pressure, and media images of sexuality can negatively influence sexual desire.
- Low testosterone also affects sexual drive in both men and women. Testosterone levels peak in women in their mid-20s and then steadily declines until menopause, when the said level drops dramatically.
- Medical problems or mental illnesses such as depression, or medical conditions, such as endometriosis, fibroids, and thyroid disorders, impact a woman’s sexual drive both mentally and physically.
- Medications such as antidepressants (including the new generation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRI), blood pressure-lowering drugs, and oral contraceptives can lower sexual drive by decreasing testosterone levels or affecting blood flow.
- Age is also a factor since androgens fall continuously in women as they age.
Since women’s loss of sexual desire is caused by a combination of physical and psychological factors, more than one treatment approach is usually required to fix the problem. As soon as the factors causing low sexual desire have been determined, potential treatment options may include:
- Sex therapy and/or relationship counseling. Sexual health problems usually affect both parties in a relationship and should be discussed together or individually with a mental health professional.
- Changing medications or altering the dose. Sexual health problems caused by medications can be remedied by a change of prescription. Using alternative therapies may also be recommended. If an oral contraceptive is suspected as the culprit in lowering testosterone levels, a different formulation or non-hormonal birth control methods may be prescribed.
- Addressing underlying medical conditions. Medical problems contributing to low sexual desire may require surgical treatment, such as the removal of painful fibroids or medication.
- Use of vaginal estrogens. In postmenopausal women, vaginal dryness may be treated with vaginal estrogen creams.
- Testosterone therapy. Although no hormone or drug has been approved by the FDA to treat sexual health problems in women, many gynecologists recommend off-label uses of testosterone therapy for women with low sexual desire to restore testosterone to normal (pre-menopausal) levels.
In addition, several therapies involving testosterone pills or skin patches specifically designed to treat female sexual problems are currently being studied in hopes of getting FDA approval in the near future. Initial studies have shown that the patch significantly improved both sexual desire and satisfaction compared with placebo among postmenopausal women who had their ovaries removed.
The third phase of clinical trials of the testosterone patch involving several thousand women worldwide is currently wrapping up and the results should be published soon. For the first time, this study looked at the effect of the testosterone patches in naturally menopausal women as well as those who have undergone surgical or early menopause caused by chemotherapy or removal of their ovaries.
Drugs are usually tested against a placebo (sugar pill) where there is a high expectation from users. This will help measure their effect scientifically. It also helps explain why many supplements claim to be effective in treating sexual health problems such as low sexual desire. Because expectations play such a large role in sexual desire, over-the-counter products may claim that they’re effective, but it’s likely just a placebo effect. In the last few years, however, the introduction of anti-impotence treatments has encouraged more research to dig deeper into the causes of sexual health problems among both men and women. Recent medical advances yield more effective treatments and helpful therapies to put the lust back into the lives of more men and women.