rē•gaining Your Sex Drive As You Age
Growing older need not get in the way of your libido.
Growing older is a natural stage of life. But like the other aspects of the human experience, sex drives are not immune to the passage of time. With age, the libido begins to shift and can gradually decrease. Statistics show that women are more likely than men to be affected by a decrease in sex drive — but don’t be alarmed; it happens to the best of us. While this drop in libido is a natural part of life and aging, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways that we can regain and boost libido. To start, delve deeper into what desire means to each of you to address declining sex drives at their source.
The textbook definition of desire is “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing something to happen.” Of course, we can desire just about anything in life, shifting our perception based on the topic and subject matter. But in the case of libido, it’s our desire for sex and pleasure. “Your libido comprises psychological, biological, sociological, and physiological components,” says Cheryl Fagan, sex educator and founder of the sexual education platform On Top. “It can also be influenced by our mood, hormones, and environment. This is also sometimes referred to as a sex drive. However, it’s important to remember that this isn’t necessarily like your drive to eat or drink water — as those are vital for your survival!”
While the sex drive isn’t necessarily integral to our survival, it is evolutionarily linked to the human race’s survival. According to Fagan, it can be motivated by the need for connection to express love, physical pleasure, or even emotional intimacy. Understanding the root of your desires will help in the long run as you begin to identify what may be causing your changes in sex drive and what practices you might adopt to help naturally boost your libido.
rē•Cognizing Changes in Libido
It’s no secret (and there’s no shame) that we go through various changes in the mind, body, and spirit as we age. Your libido will naturally ebb and flow as time goes on, either due to age or potentially because of other external factors, and this is both normal and healthy. But you can work with these natural rhythms to rē-claim your pleasure in life. “[Changes in libido] could be caused by relational dissatisfaction, stress at home or work, certain medications, etc. Fagan explains that the key is to stay curious about your desire or lack thereof,” Fagan explains. “Oftentimes people seek help when something seems wrong or off, but prioritizing your sexual wellness and pleasure as part of your overall health and wellness aids in an orgasmic life.”
Fagan wants to assure you that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to work on your sex life and that it need not be inspired by a ‘problem’ — be proactive. Just like other aspects of your lifestyle, like cooking and exercise, optimizing your experience of sex and intimacy can take a significant amount of intention and attention to find what excites and satisfies you sustainably.
What Affects the Sex Drive?
Sometimes, the sex drive is entirely affected by factors out of your control. For example, perimenopause and menopause can play a role in a woman’s sex drive because of their impact on hormones, which determine libido. “[During these phases] the body produces less estrogen, which can affect your sex life, notably sexual arousal,” Fagan tells rē•spin. “Touch may feel different, you may start to experience emotional changes, your sleeping patterns change… You may also experience vaginal dryness as there can be a decrease in blood flow to the vagina.”
If this occurs, Fagan emphasizes the importance of open communication with your partner to express some of these feelings. In addition, she recommends talking to your doctor about the changes you might be experiencing through those two conditions. “Remember that intimacy and desire are not limited to physical sex,” she adds. “Consider how you relate to yourself and pleasure; what do you find pleasurable and enjoy? Then, permit yourself to do those things you find pleasurable.”
Embrace your Curiosity
Fagan recommends that you get curious instead rather than judge yourself or ignore your shift in sex drive. “A huge myth is that sexual desire is spontaneous and being horny just drops on you, but in reality, many factors lead to your desire and arousal,” she explains. Fagan references the “Dual Control Model of Sexual Response,” developed by researchers Erick Janssen and John Bancroft for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, which suggests that much like other aspects of the brain-body relationship that are controlled by our central nervous system, sexual arousal is dependent on the balance between sexual excitation and sexual inhibition. In Emily Nagoski’s 2015 book Come as You Are, she corroborates these findings by referring to the Sexual Excitation System as the accelerator, whereas the Sexual Inhibition System is the brake.
“Maybe you need to turn off some of the brakes,” Fagan suggests, meaning that it’s time to discard the things that turn you off. To work past these moments where you feel a decrease in sex drive, Fagan suggests buying a new toy or lube, testing out a new sex position (though she caveats this advice by explaining it may not give you all of the answers you want, but can be fun at times), and keeping an arousal diary to document what turns you on and off to keep track.
rē•Gaining Control of Your Sex Drive
Just because sexuality changes with age doesn’t mean that our sex drive disappears entirely. It may be a natural part of aging. However, there are still practices to implement to boost your sex drive once again and embrace your inner desires, whatever this means to you. Since desire is cultivated, Fagan poses two simple questions: Do you truly believe you’re deserving? Do you feel desirable? “If not, this can influence your desire or lack thereof,” she explains. “Love, care, and invest into you! Sometimes sexual desire isn’t always there or isn’t what we expect it to be.”
A widely spread misconception about sex in Western culture is that it is always spontaneous and intense. Traditional sex education often leans into an edifying role or skews into a more unrealistic, hyper-sexualized model, both of which neglect the reality of the situation. In actuality, sex can be viewed through a spiritual and sacred lens to help improve the quality of sex that you’re having rather than focusing on the frequency. As Fagan explains, “Sex is creative; it’s not just a physical activity, but it’s spiritual; it takes us somewhere.”
When addressing your sexual desire from the spiritual dimension, Fagan suggests you look inward and address a few questions: What does it do for your relationship? With your partner expanding your ideas of what pleasure and intimacy look like, what are new ways to deepen your intimacy? “I’m really just scratching the surface here because sexual desire is dependent on so many factors to really see some changes; we need to consider this from a bio-psycho-social approach — it could be something as simple as changing a medication or scheduling sex, but it can also be more complex than that,” Fagan says.
Finding natural ways to boost your sex drive will range from person-to-person depending on their own specific needs and situation. At the very least, Fagan recommends that anyone looking to enhance their libido aim to cultivate their desire, keep a pleasure diary, and practice mindfulness when it comes to sex.