Libido and Sex Drive
Libido, also referred to as sex drive in common language is an individual’s overall desire to have sex or sexual drive. Sigmund Freud placed libido on one side of his theory of instinctual dualism, whereas Carl G. Jung referred libido to be psychic energy. Nowadays such definitions of libido are seldom used and when discussing libido we are mostly referring to sexual drive.
What is Libido and why do we have one?
The term libido is used to describe desire to have sexual activity or sexual drive. According to modern physicians the importance of libido is among the key indicators of quality of life and overall health.
In both males and females, libido is linked directly to the androgen hormones or testosterone. As males have around 40 times more testosterone in comparison to females, it is thought that they have more intense libido; however, they also demonstrate more aggressive behaviour.
What role do peptides have in sexual arousal and sexual drive is not yet certain as they have multiple sites of action and roles to play. Still oxytocin, which is a neuropeptide and also referred to as a “bonding hormone” plays an important role in both parental and sexual behaviour. Besides regulating sexual drive, oxytocin also plays a role in general sexual motivation and penile erection.
Dopamine has a strong role to play in motivation and libido. This neurotransmitter and hormone is among the key players in the body. Steroid hormones result in an increased synthesis and release of dopamine during periods of enhanced sexual responding leading to an increased libido or sexual drive.
What are the reasons for a reduced libido?
A reduced libido happens in a lot of people both males and females. However, few of them would like to discuss about it. After all, sexuality plays an important role in our overall concept of manhood. You are supposed to always live up to the idea: “If you are not always in the mood then you are not a real man.”
Causes of low libido:
- Age. Low sex drive in males may be caused due to age. It is very normal to have your libido decreased gradually as you get older.
- Low testosterone levels. Testosterone plays an important role in maintaining your libido. You are diagnosed to have low T or low testosterone when your hormone levels reach below 300 ng/dL (nanograms per decilitre). Low testosterone levels are associated with a decreased libido.
- Medicines. Taking certain medicines such as anti-hypertensives including beta-blockers and ace inhibitors may prevent erections and ejaculation.
- RLS (Restless leg syndrome). This disorder is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to continuously move your legs. According to a study, males with RLS are at an increased risk for getting erectile dysfunction (an inability to maintain or have an erection) in comparison to males without RLS.
- Depression. Persons suffering from depression experience a lack of interest in all activities including sex. Moreover, decreased libido can be a side effect of certain anti-depressants, especially SSRIs.
- Chronic illness. Your libido may also get reduced due to a chronic illness such as chronic pain and diabetes. Some illnesses such as cancer may decrease your sperm counts.
- Problems with sleep. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, males who suffer from OSA (obstructive sleep apnoea) have lower levels of testosterone. This in turn results in decreased libido and sexual activity.
- Stress. If you have excessive stress in your life then your sexual drive and desire may reduce. This happens because your hormone levels are disrupted by stress. Moreover, stress narrows your arteries leading to restricted blood flow potentially causing erectile dysfunction.
- Obesity. Obese males tend to have erectile dysfunction.
- Causes of low libido in females:
- Low testosterone levels. Testosterone levels in females gradually decrease with age and drops dramatically after menopause leading to low libido or sexual desire.
- Contraceptives. Taking birth control pills or using other forms of hormonal contraceptives can have a negative effect on a female’s sexual desire.
- Medical illness. Medical illnesses such as endometriosis, fibroids and thyroid problems may lead to a reduced sexual desire in females.
- Stress. As in males, excessive stress in life can reduce libido in females also.
- Relationship issues with sexual partner can have negative effect on a female’s libido.
- Obesity. As in males, obese females tend to have low sexual desire.
Dietary reasons why Libido may be reduced, foods to consume and foods to avoid?
Diet affects sexual desire in multiple ways. Some of these effects can be understood easily. For instance, getting enough quantity of food to eat gives the energy for sexual function. However, too much eating may kill the sexual desire. But sexual desire is also affected by diet in several ways that are lesser known such as by increasing blood flow, symptoms of arousal, lubrication and production of hormones.
Foods to consume to increase libido
- Natural Aphrodisiacs: Bananas, figs and avocados.
- Vitamin C foods: Oranges, broccoli, red peppers and guava.
- Iron-rich foods: dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale and grass-fed beef.
- Collagen-rich foods: Eat more bone broths and take a collagen supplement powder. Vitamin C also aids in increasing the production of collagen.
- Sweet potatoes
- Spices such as clove and nutmeg
- Dark chocolate
- Brazil nuts
- Water: Dehydration can easily decrease your sexual desire; hence, drink adequate amounts of water.
Foods that you should avoid or which decrease libido
- Fried foods and Trans fats
- Processed foods
- Poor-quality protein: Such as from factory-farmed meat.
- High sodium foods: Such as processed foods and canned foods.
- Conventional dairy: Cheese, milk and other dairy products from milk of cow can contain synthetic hormones that may produce a negative effect on the levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
- Microwaveable Popcorn
Supplements to increase Libido
Maca: Maca is native Peruvian root extract from the plant, Lepidium Meyenii. It's naturally grown and found in high mountainous regions of the Andes. Maca has been used since ancient times as it was thought to increase strength and stamina. It is considered a nutritional powerhouse as it is rich in almost all macronutrients and iodine and iron. It is a potent natural energy booster. In increases sexual desire in both males and females. In females, it also helps in maintaining hormonal balance and fertility. According to a study published in the journal CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics, Maca root was found useful in alleviating SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction and may also have a beneficial effect on libido. According to another study published in the journal Andrologia, a small but significant effect of Maca supplementation was found on the subjective perception of general and sexual well-being in adult patients with mild erectile dysfunction.
Iron: Iron is an essential trace mineral in the human body. Iron deficiency can adversely affect sexual arousal, desire, lubrication and orgasm having ability especially in females. Natural sources of iron include red meat, poultry, pork, beetroot, beans, broccoli, legumes, fortified cereals and dried fruits. To help the absorption of iron it should be taken with vitamin C and its consumption with calcium, fibre, tannins and phytates should be avoided. Iron helps in maintaining normal rate of cell division and a healthy immune system.
Ginseng: Ginseng is native to Asian countries such as Korea and China. The Asian form is referred to as Panax Ginseng. It is one of the oldest known herbal medicines and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 7000 years. It improves mental and physical performance in the body. It has been found to increase sexual desire in menopausal females. According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, oral administration of Korean red ginseng extracts improved sexual arousal in menopausal females. Hence, it is recommended that red ginseng extracts may be used as an alternative medicine in menopausal females to improve their sexual life. According to another study published in the Asian Journal of Andrology, Korean red ginseng has been found to be an effective alternative to the invasive approaches for treating male erectile dysfunction.
Horny goats weed: Horny goats weed is a plant native to Japan, China and Korea. Its botanical name is Epimedium. This herb is widely used by males to treat erectile dysfunction. The active ingredient in this herb is icariin, which works by inhibiting the activity of PDE5 that prevents the dilatation of the penile arteries. This allows dilatation of penile arteries and creates a penile erection. According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, rats who received purified extract of horny goats weed demonstrated an improvement in erectile dysfunction. In another study it was found that icariin, the active ingredient in horny goats weed is effective in inhibiting PDE5 in humans. PDE5 blocks erections in males.
L-arginine: L-arginine is a type of amino acid that helps in making proteins in the body. It also produces nitric oxide (NO) gas in the body. NO is important for maintaining an erection because it helps in relaxation of the blood vessels so that more blood rich in oxygen can circulate in your arteries. Healthy flow of blood to the penile arteries is important to maintain normal erectile function. According to a study published in the Journal BJU international, oral administration of l-arginine in high doses cause subjective improvement in sexual function in males with organic ED only if they have decreased NO excretion or production. According to another study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, supplementation with ArginMax in females produced notable improvements in sexual desire, reduction in vaginal dryness, frequency of sexual intercourse and orgasm and clitoral sensation. ArginMax for Women is a proprietary nutritional supplement that consists of extracts of ginseng, gingko, and damiana, L-arginine, multivitamins and minerals.
Vitamin B3: Vitamin B3 is also referred to as Niacin or Nicotinic Acid. It is a water soluble vitamin. Natural sources of vitamin B3 are yeast, wild rice, peanuts, turkey, wholemeal flour, trout, lean red meats, mackerel, and sesame and sunflower seeds. It helps in energy metabolism and production resulting in decreased feelings of fatigue and tiredness. It helps libido by improving blood flow as it is a vasodilator. According to an article published in the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development, B-complex vitamins guard against impotence, premature ejaculation and premature menopause. Niacin improves circulation and detoxifies body. It also has anti-depressant action.
Libido or sex drive in common language is an individual’s overall desire to have sex. Hormones testosterone, oxytocin and dopamine have a key role to play in the occurrence of libido. There are multiple causes of reduced libido in both males and females ranging from low testosterone levels to stress to old age. Foods also have an effect on increasing or decreasing a person’s libido. There are various supplements such as Maca, L-arginine, ginseng, Niacin, iron and horny goats weed that you can take to naturally increase and boost your libido.
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