Everyone’s libido is different, but what we all have in common is that our libido (desire for sex and intimacy) fluctuates throughout our lives. We all experience lower libido at different points, and especially as we age.
A decline in libido can be experienced by any gender. But this lack of desire for sex may not be a big deal for everyone.
“While decreased libido is more common as we age, everyone is different,” Dr. Wolf says. “Not just in the wide variety of contributing factors that may influence libido, but also to the extent that a decreased libido is a problem — there is no one right answer to how much sex is the right amount to be having for any age, sex or gender.”
In other words, if you’ve noticed a change in your libido but it’s not affecting your quality of life or relationships, there’s no reason to worry about it.
If lower libido is a concern for you, though, we’ve got answers. Here’s what causes libido changes with age and how you can navigate these shifts and even kickstart your sex drive again.
Managing any health conditions, prioritizing your mental health and redefining how you view sexual intimacy may help you better deal with age-related libido changes.
People of all genders can experience changes in libido as they age, per Tufts Medical Center. That’s because aging affects our hormone levels, which play a role in our desire for sex.
“A major cause of libido decline is decreased levels of sex hormones — specifically, decreases in testosterone and estrogen, ” says Kevin Wolf, DO, board-certified osteopathic family physician. “These hormones, often thought of as unique to a particular sex, are present in all humans in different amounts.”
2. Age-Related Health Issues
As you get older, you’re more likely to experience health problems that can contribute to a drop in your libido.
“Health problems that are more common with age and that can be associated with decreases in libido include heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea,” Dr. Wolf says.
Other health issues that can affect your sex life as you age, per the National Institute on Aging (NIA), include:
- Arthritis: Joint pain caused by arthritis can make having sex physically uncomfortable.
- Chronic pain: Chronic pain can cause exhaustion and interfere with sexual intimacy.
- Incontinence: Loss of bladder control can put extra pressure on the belly during sex and cause urine to leak.
Certain health problems can have physical, emotional and mental effects that limit your ability to physically engage in and enjoy sex, as well as your desire to be sexually active — even more so, when you don’t manage your health conditions well.
For example, diabetes can cause erectile dysfunction in people assigned male at birth (AMAB) and when unmanaged, can lead to yeast infections in people assigned female at birth (AFAB), which can cause itching or irritation that makes sex uncomfortable or lowers your desire to be sexual, per the NIA.
“Health conditions can also limit our mobility and flexibility,” Sarah Melancon, PhD, sociologist and clinical sexologist, tells LIVESTRONG.com. “As sex becomes physically uncomfortable, it will not sound as appealing, and our libido can diminish.”
“Numerous medications can negatively affect libido,” Melancon says, and you’re more likely to be taking medication the older you get.
Some medications that can lower your libido, per the NIA, include:
- Blood pressure meds
- Anti-ulcer drugs
- Medications for Parkinson’s disease or cancer
Getting older means that our bodies will surely change, both in terms of how they look and what they can do. And having a negative relationship with your body can affect your libido.
“We live in a culture that values youth,” Melancon says. “Older individuals may struggle with feeling unattractive, and when we don’t feel very sexy, we can feel put off by sex.”
A November 2019 study in the European Journal of Ageing examined the connection between body image and sexual satisfaction in older adults in four different European countries.
Researchers found that there was a correlation between participants being dissatisfied with their appearance and lower levels of sexual satisfaction.
Although more research is needed, the study makes a good case for increasing our understanding of how a negative self-image affects our libido, especially as we get older.
5. Mental Health Disorders
Mental health and sexual health are connected. And a mental health disorder like depression, for example, can come with symptoms like low-self esteem, feelings of hopelessness and physical fatigue, which can all lower your libido, per the Cleveland Clinic.
In people with depression, the sex-related chemicals that would typically communicate sexual desire between your brain and your sex organs are out of balance. And depression is just one mental health concern for aging adults.
About 20 percent of people ages 55 and older in the U.S. experience some type of mental health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The most common mental health conditions as you age include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment and mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder.
Accumulated life experiences can take a toll on your mental health as you age, says Melancon.
“Your mental and emotional health can be affected by feelings about aging in a culture that doesn’t value old age, watching friends or family pass away and/or personal concerns regarding one’s health and death,” she notes.
Relationship issues in long-term romantic partnerships especially can limit your desire for sexual intimacy.
“It is quite common for older couples to remain together in an emotionally distant relationship,” Melancon says. “Without addressing the problem, this distance typically grows over time and interest in sex and sexual functioning can be reduced.”
Other relationship-related issues that can interfere with your libido include grief after the death of a partner, difficulty dating as you age and different levels of desire between partners, she adds.
4 Tips for Dealing With Libido Decline as You Age
Although the research is limited, there is a possible correlation between greater wellbeing and older adults who are sexually active.
A December 2018 study in Sexual Medicine looked at data on the sexual activity of over 6,000 older adults and found a link between feelings of sexual satisfaction and higher levels of life enjoyment.
However, this association was greater in people AMAB, who also consistently self-reported lower levels of life enjoyment when they were experiencing sexual health problems.
The following tips may help you navigate libido changes with age:
This tip may seem obvious, but talking about your sexual health with your doctor isn’t always easy or comfortable.
“I’d encourage anyone experiencing any sexual dysfunction to talk to a qualified health professional, preferably one you have an ongoing professional relationship with such as a primary care provider,” Dr. Wolf says.
Your doctor can help you better manage any health issues you have that are affecting your libido as well as explore making changes to medications that cause a decrease in sexual desire.
If you can’t pinpoint the cause of your lack of interest in sex, your doctor likely can help you get to the bottom of it.
Openly communicating how you’re feeling about sex with a partner can help when you’re experiencing libido troubles.
“The strength and endurance of a bond between partners also correlates with the likelihood of a more satisfying sex life,” Dr. Wolf says. “Also, communicating with a partner improves a person’s ability to address any problems that arise.”
Talking openly about age-related changes you and your sex drive are going through — without blaming yourself or your partner — can help increase intimacy, per the NIA.
It may also be helpful to talk to a therapist who specializes in sexual health, alone or with your partner, to help you process the emotional and mental effects of having a lower libido.
3. Redefine How You View Sexual Intimacy
Sexual intimacy doesn’t have to focus solely on your libido.
“Enjoying intimacy and sexuality doesn’t need to only be around the libido — there are numerous ways that individuals can sexually connect that can gradually enhance and maintain libido,” says Nicole Ohebshalom, RN, LPCC, registered nurse and licensed professional clinical counselor.
Practicing mindfulness is one option for reconnecting with physical intimacy without the pressure to engage in sex. “Mindfulness and embodiment practices can be very useful to get in touch with one’s sense of sexual desire again,” Melancon says.
One example of a mindfulness practice that may help you connect with a partner — without sex being the goal — is sensate focus.
Sensate focus was developed by Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson in the 1960s and focuses primarily on non-genital touching and sensations that can help partners improve their intimacy and communication, per the Sexual Medicine Society of North America (SMSNA)
For more insight into sensate focus, check out this guide created by Cornell Health.
4. Prioritize Your Mental Health
Making your mental health a priority may help with sexual problems. And working with your doctor and a mental health professional can help you learn coping skills and manage any mental health conditions.
For example, if you’re experiencing a mental health condition like depression, there are things you can do that may help with improving sexual desire, like the following, per the Cleveland Clinic:
- Avoiding drugs, alcohol and tobacco
- Exercising, eating a nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy body weight
- Communicating openly and honestly with your partner
- Working with your doctor to choose medications with the least amount of side effects
Managing your stress levels may also have a positive effect on your libido. “Stress accumulates over time, which has detrimental effects on many aspects of health — including sexuality,” Melancon says.
Some ways to reduce stress, per the Cleveland Clinic, include:
- Relaxation activities
- Taking good care of your body
- Practicing gratitude
- Eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep
- Staying connected to your support system