What is libido?

Libido can seem like a mystical force. Sometimes it visits at the wrong time and overstays its welcome, or it’s nowhere to be found when we could really use it. If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated with your libido, you’re not alone!

Research on sexual motivation is still progressing, but there are some takeaways from existing research that can help you demystify your libido.

Does sex drive exist?

Most sex researchers agree that sex is not a ‘drive’, it’s a motivational system. The difference is that intrinsic drives are fuelled by lack of something (food, sleep, social connection), but sexual motivation is fuelled by an attractive reward. Sex can be great, but we don’t need it to survive!
(Note: sometimes we’ll still use the term ‘sex drive’ when talking about libido, but we don’t mean it literally!)

How does libido work?

Sexual desire is usually triggered by something in your environment that reminds you of sex, but can also be triggered by thoughts or imagination. Sometimes it can come seemingly out of nowhere, which could be a good or bad thing depending on where you are at the time!

The link between sexual desire and physical response is not always straightforward (see below), but usually one results in the other, and they continue in a ‘positive feedback loop’ (both cause an increase in each other). This exists alongside another positive feedback loop, which happens between an attractive incentive and arousal. Arousal increases how attractive something is to us, which increases our arousal!

Here’s an example of these loops at work; you’re watching a partner undress, your body responds, their body becomes more attractive, your desire increases, your body responds more… and so on!

My body says yes, but my mind says no (or vice versa)

Sexual motivation usually results in physical arousal, but that’s not always the case. You can feel sexual desire without becoming physically aroused or vice versa. This can be frustrating or confusing, and it’s important to recognise that it isn’t abnormal. Sometimes it takes more time for your body to catch up with your mind, or the other way around.

It’s also normal to feel like you want something and then realise you’re not enjoying it. Wanting and liking don’t always go together with sex. Take your time and be kind to yourself. Always practice consent and good communication with yourself and others. Instead of getting frustrated with your libido, practice being patient with yourself!

Stress and mood

Your mood can directly or indirectly influence your libido. The effect is different for everyone, but it’s good to think about how you’re feeling if your libido isn’t working how it usually does. For some people, stress and low mood can actually increase sexual motivation. Some individuals also use sex to cope with short term stress. Long-term stress or low mood usually reduces libido.

Some medications can also have an effect on libido, for example, birth control or SSRIs.

Am I normal?

Yes! It’s normal for libidos to fluctuate, weekly, monthly and over the course of a lifetime. It’s also normal to feel a little bewildered with your sex drive sometimes. Everyone gets frustrated with their libido at some point in their lifetime. If you are happy with your sexual appetite right now, then there’s nothing to worry about. If you’re worried about how much sex you should be having, the answer is usually as much or as little as you want to! Click here for more on how much sex you should be having. 


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