Decreased Sex Drive in Women Is More Complicated Than Hormones


In uncovering the root cause for a woman’s decreased sex drive, there are no easy answers. The reasons can range from reduced amounts of the hormone testosterone in the blood, plus a wide range of psychological and social factors, according to a study.

“There’s no simple explanation for why some women lack sexual desire. Testosterone may play a role in women’s sexual desire, but we also show that psychological and social factors play a major role,” says lead author Sarah Wåhlin-Jacobsen, MD, a Ph.D. student at the Sexological Clinic at University Hospital of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Researchers looked specifically at the lack of sexual desire trending in women who ranged in age from 19 to 58 and found that the data, taken from the questionnaires of 428 Danish women, had a lot more to consider than hormones and simple biology. The study also only zeroed in on women in the premenopausal phase of their lives.

The study participants were quizzed about their relationships, psychological well-being and sexual functioning — including whether they were experiencing the sexual dysfunction of a low sex drive. Then, their libido responses were measured against the amounts of testosterone found in their blood.

“Low desire is not necessarily a problem for all women,” says Wåhlin-Jacobsen. “It’s only classified as a sexual dysfunction when the woman is distressed by having a low sex drive.”

The Role of Testosterone in a Woman’s Libido

While testosterone has been dubbed the male hormone, a woman’s body produces small amounts of it in the ovaries and adrenal glands.

“We know that the sex hormone testosterone is physiologically important for male sexual drive, but the importance of testosterone in women is far from clear,” says physician and professor of Sexology Christian Graugaard from the Sexology Research Centre, University of Aalborg, Denmark. Graugaard was not involved in the study.

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In addition, the study focused on women who were classified as sexually dysfunctional and troubled by their lack of sexual desire and urges. This was where testosterone’s influence on a woman’s sex drive became less definitive.

“When we only looked at the group of women who had a lower sex drive and were distressed by it, it didn’t look as though the testosterone level had much significance,” says Wåhlin-Jacobsen. “Here, the length of the relationship and symptoms of depression played a more significant role.”

Other Factors That Influence a Woman’s Sex Drive

The study also found if a woman’s partner was experiencing sexual difficulties, like getting or maintaining an erection, the woman automatically had a stronger libido.

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“It’s an interesting finding. Women who reported that their partner had sexual problems, had half the risk themselves of experiencing a reduced sex drive,” says Wåhlin-Jacobsen. “Our hypothesis is that when the partner has sexual problems, then the woman doesn’t feel that her sexual needs are being satisfied. She experiences a kind of pent-up desire and therefore reports a high amount of desire,” she says.

Another scenario that can influence a woman’s libido is how often she and her partner have sex. What some people classify as low sex drive might be different for others, and the whole topic could be seen as a subjective situation.

“If the partner has a higher sexual drive, then she may find that she has a problem,” adds Wåhlin-Jacobsen.

A woman’s mental state of mind also has a huge influence on her sex drive and sexual desire. Both depression and mental illness can suppress sex drive, and even minor health problems can have far-reaching effects on intimacy.

Emotional Well-Being Plays Biggest Role in Libido

A separate 2014 study found that a woman’s emotional well-being played an even larger role in fueling her libido, more so than testosterone. So, ‘turning a woman on’ is only the tip of the iceberg to truly creating an enticing sexual environment for her.

“Women’s interest in sex is extremely complicated,” said Dr. John Randolph, a study author. Randolph is a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology with the University of Michigan Health System.

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The data for this research was culled by information provided by 3,302 women who took part in a 10-year study called Study of Women’s Health Around the Nation. These women, who were all going through menopause, had their blood drawn. Doctors then checked their testosterone levels and that of their reproductive hormones.

Researchers in this study found that women with higher testosterone blood levels felt slightly stronger sexual desire than those who had lower levels. But Randolph called these results “underwhelming” because it proved that testosterone alone couldn’t change the overall libido of a woman with a low sex drive or give her a healthy one.

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The women who experienced higher feelings of sexual desire were the ones who reported being emotionally fulfilled in their romantic relationships and who did not experience excessive sadness. These women had higher libidos than their counterparts whose relationships were emotionally lacking and who also suffered from somber moods.

The data shows that one of the therapies for women experiencing low sex drive could be discussing with their doctor ways to boost and support their psychological health.

“It’s not fair, I know. A lot of people would probably rather just be able to take a pill,” Randolph said. “But when it comes to sex, women are a lot more complicated. Mood and an overall sense of health and well-being is key for women.”