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What is libido? Plus the factors that can influence it

Regardless of your relationship status or life stage, you’ve likely thought about your libido before, and maybe wondered if it was “normal.” But what is libido exactly? What factors can influence it? And why might yours be higher or lower than usual? Read on to find some answers to these questions and more.

Libido, defined

Libido is a term that refers to a person’s general interest in sex. Sometimes also called sex drive, someone’s libido is a broad measure of how often they want to engage in sexual activity over a long period of time. 

High libido vs. low libido

You know this: Libido is often amended with words like ‘high’ or ‘low.’

Someone who feels an internal pull to have sex multiple times a day, for example, might claim to have a high libido. Meanwhile, a person who only feels moved to masturbate every few months might claim a low libido

Despite the fact that it’s common to qualify libido in this way, there actually isn’t a qualitative scale. Libido does not have a specific metric attached to it, the way other bodily functions like cholesterol and blood pressure do. 

This means that there isn’t a way to specifically gauge a normal libido or an abnormal libido. (More on the concept of a normal libido below). 

What is a normal libido?

Whether you desire sex frequently or infrequently, you might sometimes wonder: is my libido normal? The answer is yes. The amount that you desire sex is normal. 

In truth, because there is no qualitative way to measure libido, there is actually no way to set a general norm. That said, everyone has a personal norm. And while desire ebbs and flows, most people have a general sense of how often they want sex. 

If this is the first time you’ve thought about your libido, you might ask yourself the following questions: 

  • In my dream world, how often would I have sex? 
  • How often do I masturbate? Does the answer change during different seasons of the year, or at different points in my menstrual cycle? 
  • How often do I think about or fantasize about solo, partnered or multi-partnered sex?

So…what is a healthy libido? 

Another great question!

Good news: The only time your libido could be considered unhealthy, is when your desire (or lack of desire) for sex is actively interfering with your quality life. 

Someone who craves sex so frequently that they are shirking on their guardian or work responsibilities, for example, might have an unhealthy libido, or an unhealthy relationship with sex. Likewise, a person who is distraught about how infrequently they want to have sex or crave sexual activity, might have an unhealthy relationship with their libido. 

If you see yourself in either of those examples, your best bet is to work with a sex-positive mental health provider or sex therapist. These experts will have the skills to help you reframe your relationship with your libido and navigate your desires (or lack thereof). 

The 3 main factors that influence your libido

Your libido is like your car dashboard — it cues you in on what’s going on with the rest of your vehicle. When something is up with your body, you get the libidinal equivalent to a blinking “check engine” light. 

Here are three general factors that have the greatest impact on your interest in sex. 

1. What you do

Do you exercise? If so, for how long, how often, and at what intensities? Exercise has the ability to either increase or decrease your sex drive. Research shows that, generally speaking, people who have some movement practice desire sex more those who are more sedentary. 

However, there’s also a connection between an increase in exercise, and decrease in libido. Researchers have concluded that a lower libido is one of the signs of overtraining syndrome. 

Also relevant: If you exercise regularly, are you giving your body what it needs to recover afterwards? Things like meditating, body work, sleeping, and walking all have the power to support recovery, which in turn supports a healthy libido. 

2. What you eat and drink 

This probably won’t come as a surprise, but what you eat is going to influence your libido. Eating nutrient-dense food can boost your libido. 

Likewise, you need to be eating enough. When you under-eat, you’re sending the message to your body that there are limited resources. In turn, your body heads right into survival mode. And when your body is worried about surviving on its own, you aren’t going to crave sex — something that could, in theory, bring another being into this world. 

Your alcohol and drug intake can also impact your libido. Generally speaking, both have an inverse effect on your overall interest in sex. While many people report feeling hornier after a drink or two, excessive drinking has been shown to interfere with genital arousal response. 

Also important to note here are the prescription medications you take. Many antidepressants and blood pressure medications, in particular, are known to lower your libido — but other medications can have this effect, too. 

Before making any changes to your medications, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to prescribe another medication that doesn’t impact your libido, or pair it with another medication that counterbalances the effects. 

3. How you feel 

Your overall mental health, relationship health, relationship with work, and spiritual wellbeing can impact your libido, too. As can chronic medical conditions and hormone changes. 

So if your libido is higher or lower than usual, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How am I feeling about my current partner(s)? 
  • Have I been spending time with people that fill up my cup? 
  • Do I feel spiritually fulfilled? 
  • How have my stress levels been? 
  • What have my pain levels been like? 

The Takeaway 

Libido is the word we use to measure interest in sex. There is no universal normal amount to be interested in sex. But there is your personal normal. And monitoring fluctuations in your person normal can help you make life and health choices that best suit your sex drive (and overall wellbeing). 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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