Just like eating, sleeping and breathing, sex is an omnipresent part of our everyday life. However, cultural and social stereotypes can stop desire dead in its tracks. Many people tell themselves and each other stories to support the notion that older people shouldn’t, can’t, and wouldn’t want to have sex. But when we accept cultural and social stereotypes as our destinies, we limit ourselves.
Sientific researches show that a large percentage of people, in their sixth and seventh decades and older, are having sex lives that are better than ever before. Loss of libido can happen but is not something you have to live with. It’s both possible and important to regain your sex drive and your happy outlook on life. Let’s start by exploring what is exactly low sex drive and what causes it.
By definition, a hypoactive sexual desire disorder is the lack of sexual thoughts or desire, and the absence of these feelings causes personal distress. The causes of this complex problem range from the the psychological and social to the physiological and medical:
- Psychological causes: interpersonal relationship issues: partner performance problems, lack of emotional satisfaction with the relationship, too much togetherness with the partner or becoming a caregiver for a loved one can decrease sexual desire. Job stress and self-esteem are big factors too: if your performance at work is challenged, and you don’t feel you are achieving or don’t feel self-worth, you often numb yourself sexually. Desire is a healthy form of entitlement – when you don’t feel deserving, you shut down. Low body confidence due to overweight, aging or other issue. Stress and low self-esteem in general.
- Sociocultural influences: peer pressure and media images of sexuality can negatively influence sexual desire.
- Medical problems: mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or chronic alcholism, or other medical conditions, such as chronic prostatis, phimosis, Peyronie’s disease, post orgasmic illness syndrome, orgasmic migraine, orgasmic dysfunctions, vaginal dryness, sleep disorders, unhealthy diet, owerveight or underweight, thyroid disorders, tumors of the pituitary gland, hormonal imbalances, erectyle disfunction, infections, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, etc.
- Medications : OTC medications such as antihistamines and cold and pain remedies; antidepressants, blood pressure lowering drugs, and contraceptives; Illicit substances, such as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, when used heavily and chronically, may also cause loss of libido.
- Physiological causes: testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) are the hormones responsible for sex drive, both in men and women. Testosterone is produced by the gonads (by the Leydig cells in testes in men and by the ovaries in women), while DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands in both sexes. As we age, production of these two sex hormones wanes, making sex an item of lesser importance on the daily to-do list.
Understanding the various causes is the first step to finding the appropriate resolution. Because a loss of sexual desire is caused by a combination of factors, it usually requires more than one treatment approach to fix the problem. There is no magic pill or cream solution to bring your sex drive back. Once the factors causing low sexual desire have been determined, potential treatment options may include:
- Sex therapy and/or counseling: sex therapy is very effective for individuals and couples, and that is always at the top of my list. The low sex desire of one partner usually affects both parties in a relationship and should be discussed together or individually with a mental health professional. In Counseling, instead, a psychotherapist, apply scientifically validated techniques to help people improve their self esteem, manage stress, unhealthy eating habits, sleep problems, or other factors that can lead to low sex drive.
- Addressing underlying medical conditions: medical problems contributing to low sexual desire may require medical or surgical treatment.
- Changing medications or altering the dose: If the problem is caused by medications, a change of prescription or alternative therapies may be recommended.
- Balancing your hormones: Hormones are the only solution to problems caused by hormone loss. Not a miracle, not witchcraft, not snake oil, not supplements and not your diet. Scientific studies have shown that bio-identical replacement treatment of the sex hormones testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) significantly improved both sexual desire and satisfaction among men and women. However, sometime this is not enough. Nearly every one of my patients believes that by restoring their sex hormones levels with injections, gels, pills, lozenge or pellets will restore their libido. The answer is yes and no. Yes, testosterone and DHEA are responsible for sex drive but so is the ratio of them with other hormones. Hormonal imbalances can severely inhibit sexual desire and sexual performance too. Maintaining appropriate levels of testosterone and DHEA, plus restoring hormone balance if lost, is fundamental for keeping the sex drive alive in both men and women.
Bottom line: People are living longer and remaining healthier. And they are more vigorous than ever before. Ex US president George H.W. Bush went skydiving to celebrate his 75th birthday, John Glenn returned to space at age 77, and Carol Sing forged a new world record at 57 by becoming the oldest woman to swim the English Channel. With this trend toward later-life vitality, why shouldn’t seniors be allowed to cast off outdated and ill-fitting stereotypes in order to express their normal, healthy sexual appetites? A fulfilling sex life is one of the most important ways to stay healthy and happy.
As the “World Health Organization” states:
“POSITIVE, MEANINGFUL SEXUAL HEALTH IS A CENTRAL COMPONENT OF OVERALL WELLBEING AND A KEY COMPONENT OF A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE”.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Valeria Acampora