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. 


How do I communicate honestly about sex?

Communicating honestly about sex in your relationships isn’t something us Irish are renowned for. The catholic shame that we all carry (to some extent) can make it difficult for us to share our desires with our partner(s). It’s about time we take a second to sit down and talk face to face with our partner(s) about our expectations, likes, dislikes and fantasies. And no, it doesn’t have to be scary. We’ll show you how…

1. Find the Right Time

Right in the throws of passion is not the right time to be having this conversation. Emotions are running high and everyone is more likely to say yes to something without really thinking it through. Instead, pick a time when you and your partner(s) are relaxed and open to discussion. This can be right after a night of cuddling and watching a movie together, over a nice lunch or dinner. Make sure no one is distracted and is only focused on the conversation.

2. Figure out your Likes & Dislikes

Most people can probably come up with a list of a few things they like or don’t like sexually. Although, sometimes it can be hard to communicate these things with someone new. If you’re not sure what you want, try this little activity: make a list of every sex act you can think of, regardless of if you ever want to try it. Give a copy of this list to your partner and keep a copy for yourself. Add three columns: Yes, No and Maybe. Then go through the list on your own and put a tick next to each activity under the column you feel pertains to you at that moment. Yes, I want to play with a vibrator during sex, but I only maybe want to experiment with anal play. After the lists are filled out, swap with your partner(s) to see what they checked off. This allows you to open up, while also checking out their feelings toward certain sexual acts. Plus, it can be such a laugh!

3. Do Not Be Judgmental

Sometimes our automatic reaction, when we hear that our partner(s) wants to try some crazy new sex act, is to immediately dismiss it or say that it’s gross. Make sure that by saying no to your partner you are not judging them in a negative way. It can be very hurtful when someone you love and trust finds something sexual you want to do abnormal or disgusting. Instead, approach your partner in a way that is calm and understanding. You can say, “While that may be something you’re interested in, right now I’m just not comfortable trying that. Ask me again in a few months and we can revisit it.” This way, you are not dismissing your partner(s)’s wants, but instead letting them know right now you aren’t ready to try that yet (and that’s okay).

4. Be Honest

‘Communicating honestly about sex’ – It’s literally in the title. It is the most important thing you can be when talking with your partner(s) about sex. Honesty is the only way everyone is going to get what they want and have fun and pleasurable sex. It can be difficult to open up to someone about your sexual desires, but the only way to get what you want is by asking, no one is a mind reader! You may be nervous or afraid that your partner(s) may reject you when you suggest a certain sexual activity, but perhaps your partner(s) wants the same thing, but they have also been too afraid to tell you. Opening up about sex is not always easy. If you’re honest it will build more trust and strength within your relationship.

5. Don’t Forget Protection!

When discussing sex with your partner(s) you need to also talk about what type of birth control you’ll want to use as well. Remember, IUDs and The Implant are the most effective forms of birth control, but you can still contract STIs with them. Therefore, you and your partner(s) should always use condoms. If you want to have enjoyable, stress-free sex, using protection is the way to do it.

Communicating honestly about sex with someone is not always easy, but it is important if you want to have a positive, healthy sex life. It might be difficult to start this conversation, but once you do, it will become more natural over time. Discussing sex with your partner builds trust and can be quite intimate. It’s a way to get to know each other and figure out how to best please each other. Sex can be very important in a relationship, and by talking about it, you are showing your partner(s) they are important to you as well.