Women: Are You Dealing with Low Libido? There Might Be a Surprising Reason Behind It

Not in the mood? Hey, we’ve all been there. Sometimes you really do have a headache, right? But if you’re consistently feeling like you’re not in the mood – that you’re struggling with low libido – there are probably reasons behind that. Some of them could be psychological or emotional, but there’s also a chance that what you’re experiencing has a physical root, or a combination of mental and physical factors. And no, we’re not just talking about the old headache problem, or even things like weight gain. We’re talking about something that might surprise you: your gut health. Yes, your gut! So what does your gut health have to do with your libido, and are there things you can try to get your gut health back on track and put the zing back into your thing?picture of a woman laying in bed facing a window with the article title across it

Your Low Libido

Here we are, at the start of a new year, in the dead of winter, and you might not be feeling super sexy. Maybe you feel like you gained a bit of weight over the holidays, maybe work is stressing you out, or maybe you’re even struggling with seasonal depression. All of that can take a toll on your sex drive. 

 

But if your low libido isn’t so, well, fleeting and seasonal, you’ll probably want to evaluate what’s going on. After all, if you’re generally a fan of sex, you’ll want to keep it and all of its benefits in your life! First of all, experts recommend you evaluate the emotional side of things in your life, asking yourself things like: Are you happy with your partner, or are there issues that need to be addressed? Are you feeling good about yourself, or has your self-image taken a hit lately? And be honest!

 

After all, for many people, sex starts in the brain (OK, not completely, but still). According to board-certified integrative physician and licensed psychotherapist, Edison de Mello, MD, Ph.D., “Libido and sexual arousal in women is, for the most part, grounded on intimacy involving the interaction of several components, including physical trust, emotional well-being, previous experiences, self-esteem, physical attraction, lifestyle, and her current relationship.”

 

But all of that psychological stuff is not the whole story. Sure, we talk about men’s physical issues with libido and sexual function, but the physical side of things can be an issue for women, too. And if your instinct after questioning yourself about your emotional life is that there’s something else going on, listen to it. That something else, researchers are finding, might have to do with your gut health.

Gut Health and Libidoillustration of a stomach with bacteria in it under a magnifying glass

It seems like talk about our gut health is everywhere these days. And there’s a good reason for that! We’re finding out more about the impact of gut health on all aspects of our overall health. 

Researchers have been uncovering many ways in which the gut, particularly the population of bacteria living in your intestines and bowel called the gut microbiome, can affect our health and behavior. And you know what? Sex is no different! Turns out your gut has a pretty big role to play in everything from the hormones of sexual behavior to the actual matter of attraction to the act itself. The following are some of the main reasons your gut affects your sex drive:

1. GI issues are a bummer

Again according to de Mello, “I often see low libido as a symptom stemming from an imbalance of the gut flora (dysbiosis), even though most of us do not necessarily think of our intestines when we think about sexual arousal. But, the gastrointestinal tract, aka our gut system, plays a major physical factor that has many unexpected effects on our ability to respond and perform sexually.”

 

Why is that? Your first instinct is probably to think GI problems, like gas, diarrhea, nausea, or bloating can really kill the mood. And you’re not wrong (although that’s not the whole story). Those things, and even the fear of experiencing them while with your partner, are actually proven to cause not only painful sex, but also performance anxiety, and eventually, low libido. 

 

For example, many IBS sufferers report experiencing performance anxiety due to the fear that they’ll have an IBS episode in the middle of intimate activities. And, in this case, instead of producing serotonin (a happy hormone), your body will feel stressed, secreting cortisol (a stress hormone). 

 

In fact, in one study in which 30 women were tested for arousal levels in the presence of elevated cortisol found:  “Women who show an increase in cortisol in response to sexual stimuli in the laboratory have lower levels of functioning in certain areas of their sexual life compared with women who show a decrease in cortisol. Stress related to sexual performance may interfere with sexual arousal.”

2. Your gut makes some good stuff

OK, but as we’ve hinted at, the relationship between your gut and your sex drive is not just about the fear of an embarrassing bodily function ruining date night. There’s something more complicated going on. Your sexual health is actually connected to your gut because of the fact that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a big role in your mental health. 

 

What does serotonin have to do with your gut? Well, serotonin doesn’t just play a role in our moods, it also helps regulate bowel movements and feelings of nausea. And it turns out that the vast majority of serotonin is produced by gut bacteria. “It turns out that only some serotonin is produced in the brain — about 80 to 90% of it is actually produced in the gut,” Dr. Edward Catalano told HuffPost in 2017. In fact, millions of neurons line your GI tract and send signals to your brain to control emotional responses.

 

And consider this: too much serotonin actually inhibits sex drive, as anyone who takes SSRIs for depression could probably tell you. So a gut that’s producing varying levels of serotonin could end up causing unexplained mood and libido changes, and doing funky things to your sex drive. So, if your gut isn’t healthy, your body and brain probably won’t be able to respond to those sexy moments as they normally would.

3. A healthy gut is a sexy gut

Here’s where things get a little crazy. The health of your gut can actually have an impact on your, shall we say, sexiness? Apparently, according to research by microbiologist Susan Erdman, the microbiome of our gut might actually play a big part in that oh-so-important part of sex: attraction. Huh? Well, she told The New York Times that microbes in our guts can affect our skin, hair, and even our oxytocin levels, and can give us (or take away) what she calls “the glow of health” that helps make us sexually attractive to others. In other words, it sounds like you might want to stock up on some probiotic yogurt before your next date.

 

And not only can your gut’s microbiome play a part in your sex appeal, but it can also play a part in how attracted you are to sexual partners. Some scientists believe that there are such things as “compatible” gut microbe populations among couples, or people who are attracted to each other. In other words, if someone’s microbial levels match yours, you’re more likely to be attracted to one another. Not a totally proven theory, but it still suggests that there’s a whole lot going on it that gut that could be affecting how you feel about sex. 

Getting Your Gut’s Sexy Back

Wow, that’s a whole lot of gut impacting a whole lot of sex drive. So if you think this might be something worth exploring when it comes to ramping up a flagging libido, what can you do? Well, there are a few things you can try to get your gut’s microbiome healthier – and sexier:picture of a womans flat stomach sweating

  • Check your diet – Eating lots of sugar and processed foods is bad for your gut, so consider cutting down on those types of foods and adding in more fresh, non-starchy fruits and veggies, as well as some fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
  • Get moving – Research has found that, among the many benefits of exercise for the body, it can also increase the “flow rate” through the intestines, which can influence your metabolism and immune function, ultimately affecting the microbiota in your gut for the better. 
  • Use antibiotics sparingly – Have an infection? Then by all means, take antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. Have a cold? Skip them; they won’t help, and they’ll negatively affect your gut’s microbiome. Since antibiotics can’t tell the difference between good bacteria and bad bacteria.

And if you’re experiencing GI issues that directly affect your sex life, in addition to talking to your doctor, consider going on dates that don’t involve eating! 

 

Your gut’s microbiome is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re about to get busy, right? But it turns out it might be having more of an effect on your sex life than you could have imagined. If you’ve got an unhealthy gut, you might just have an unhealthy sex life, as well. So eat right, get some exercise, talk to your doctor, and get yourself (and your gut) back on the sexy track!

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

Whatever Happened to the “Pink Pill”?

You know what there’s no shortage of? Products and pills that promise to enhance men’s sexuality or help with their arousal, or commercials for these products and pills. Our supposed taboos surrounding sex and sexuality don’t really seem to apply when it comes to finding ways to make sure that a male partner can perform the way they want to, and get the pleasure that everyone should be able to get out of sex. But men aren’t the only ones who can experience sexual “dysfunction,” or who might have trouble getting aroused, or experiencing pleasure in the way they are looking to. 

pink pills next to a bottle of medicine
The “pink pill” was meant to help women with low libido, but what happened to it?

There are a lot of women out there who have struggled for a long time with their experience of arousal and sexual pleasure, but we just don’t seem to be as open about finding solutions. Although, with that being said, did you know that a little “Pink Pill,” marketed under the name Addyi, was approved in 2015, and was touted as the female counterpart to Viagra, the little blue pill for men? Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it: it has never been very aggressively marketed, and it has faced continual setbacks and criticism. So what exactly is it? And does it do what it promises to – or can any drug actually help with female arousal?

The Promise of the Pink Pill

Addyi (flibanserin, as it’s known in pharmaceutical speak), or simply the “Pink Pill,” was approved by the FDA in 2015 to treat what’s known as “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” (HSDD), or low libido. HSDD is believed to affect up to six million pre-menopausal women in the U.S., and is characterized by persistent low sexual desire and emotional distress that are not attributable to an existing medical condition or relationship issue. In other words, Sprout Pharmaceutical, the creator of the drug, told women they had a pill that could actually boost their levels of sexual arousal. 

How was it meant to do that? Well, it works nothing like Viagra or any of those pills meant to help men achieve an erection. Unlike Viagra, Addyi was created to “fix” something that is all in the brain. In fact, the drug, an oral tablet that needs to be taken every day (unlike Viagra and similar drugs, which can be taken “when needed”), alters the balance of brain neurotransmitters linked to sexual function. So, no, it is definitely NOT a “female Viagra”: Viagra (sildenafil) boosts blood supply, while Addyi promises to increase sex drive.

So, the million dollar question is: does it increase sex drive in women? And how safe is it? The answer to both of these questions will probably leave you, sadly, back at the drawing board when it comes to dealing with low libido.

The Problems with the Pink Pill

As we said, Addyi has never been popular, so we wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know it even existed. It was very expensive when it was initially launched, and had a poor uptake;  when it  was relaunched in 2018, it didn’t do much better, despite a 50% price cut and a shiny new telemedicine prescribing model. It just never seemed to be what women really needed, and the results of real-world use bear that out. Improvement in libido in Addyi users isn’t remarkable: using a pretty lax set of criteria, Addyi was deemed effective in about 10% of the women who used it. Those women reported experiencing one more sexually satisfying event per month, on average, than they did before taking the drug (an increase from two to three events).

There’s another reason the Pink Pill has not taken off. Not only has Addyi been underwhelming in terms of popularity and usefulness, there have also been numerous safety concerns surrounding it. One of the main ones? During the drug’s clinical trial, twice as many women using flibanserin had accidents (including car accidents) compared to the control group.The FDA asked Sprout to study whether these dangerous complications resulted from women drinking alcohol while taking Addyi, and the results were extremely concerning, in more ways than one.blood pressure being taken by a doctor

First of all, the resulting study of alcohol use found that the combination of taking Addyi and having two to four drinks (defined as 1.5 ounces of alcohol) caused unconsciousness and dangerous drops in blood pressure in some participants. That meant that it was recommended that women avoid alcohol completely when taking the Pink Pill, since they had to take it everyday to see any results. 

The other worrying part? That study included 23 men, and just 2 women – very strange, considering that the drug is specifically designed for use by women. This is a pretty big issue, since women absorb more alcohol in their blood when they drink the same amount as men, and so experience alcohol’s effects faster than men. Because of this bizarre study, women still lack clear information about Addyi’s risks and potentially harmful effects, although the FDA now says that alcohol does not have to be avoided completely.

In addition to the safety concerns, there’s another big problem: no pill can actually be a female counterpart to Viagra. As we mentioned above, what Viagra does is basically increase blood flow – in other words, it’s goal is to fix a physical problem. Addyi works on the brain, by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters responsible for sexual excitement) while lowering levels of serotonin (which contributes to sexual inhibition) in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. But is tinkering with chemicals in the brain enough to really give women with low libido a satsifying sex life? Guess we’re back to the million dollar question.

Addressing Women’s Libido

We can give some credit to advocates of Addyi, who have pointed out that women need an option to help them increase sexual desire, and have drawn attention the fact that there is a multibillion-dollar men’s sexual health field, with no female counterpart that even comes close. Not only that, but it’s pretty troublesome that insurers have imposed fewer barriers to coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs than they have for HSDD therapeutics. 

So what can women who are distressed about their low libido levels do? First of all, it might be useful to examine the reasons that can sometimes lie behind low libido. Consider if any of the following might apply to you:

  • Are the stresses of daily life affecting your desire for sex?
  • Could the highs and lows in you sexual desire be coinciding with outside events, like the beginning or end of a relationship, or major life changes, such as pregnancy or menopause?
  • Do you find it difficult to orgasm? This could cause concerns or preoccupations that lead to a loss of interest in sex.
  • Do you think your past (or present) is affecting your libido? Desire is often connected to a sense of intimacy between partners, as well as past experiences. Over time, psychological troubles can contribute to biological problems and vice versa.
  • Are you living with any chronic conditions, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis? Some conditions can alter the sexual-response cycle, causing changes in arousal or orgasmic response.

Next, consider trying some of the following:

  • Seeing a sex therapistpurple sex toy
  • Experimenting with sex toys
  • Changing the dose or type of medicines that are known to reduce libido (like antidepressants and high blood pressure medication)
  • Addressing relationship and/or personal stressors, perhaps again with a therapist
  • Discussing the possibility of using medications or hormone therapies with your doctor, if nothing else works

It might be interesting for all of us to know more about the Pink Pill, or any drugs that promise to “fix” low libido in women – but it’s probably more worthwhile for us to get more information about women and desire in general. The list of things we don’t know about women’s libido is distressingly long: how many women struggle with low libido and why? What are the experiences of lesbian and bisexual women compared to heterosexual women? How effective are non-medical approaches to enhancing libido versus taking medications? Before we start wishing for a female Viagra, we should first give women’s sexuality the respect and consideration it deserves.