Understanding Libido and Its Variability

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Libido, also known as sex drive, refers to a person’s desire for sexual activity. There is no concrete “norm” when it comes to libido. Some people crave sex on a daily basis, while others want it rarely or not at all.

Not only does libido vary from person to person, but a single person may crave sex more or less at different points of their life, depending on their situation, lifestyle, health, hormone levels, and other factors.

For many people, libido plays a significant role in relationships, since it contributes to sexual behavior and sexual satisfaction. Often, people are most satisfied when they are getting the amount of sex that they crave.

In relationships, it's common for one partner to have a higher libido than the other. This doesn't mean that either partner's libido is abnormal, but it can cause distress for some couples.

Let's explore the different levels of libido, how to know if your libido is low or high, and what to do if you're not satisfied with your libido.

A young heterosexual couple straddling in bed

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The Difference Between Libido and Sexuality 

Libido is just one aspect of sexuality. Sexuality includes not just your desires, but also your sexual feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Feelings and thoughts don’t necessarily equate to desire, and desire doesn’t always lead to behavior — but all of these factors nevertheless fall under the umbrella of sexuality.

Often, the term “sexuality” is used to refer to sexual orientation, which describes the people you are attracted to. For example, people who are attracted solely or primarily to the opposite gender are known as straight. Some people identify as gay, which means they are attracted primarily or exclusively to people of their own gender. Meanwhile, those who are attracted to more than one gender may identify as bisexual.

Libido in Females Versus Males

It can be tricky to pinpoint the exact differences between male and female libido, because gender norms affect how some people describe their sexual desires and behaviors. On average, men tend to report a higher libido than women do, but there’s significant overlap.

Some experts believe that men are more likely to experience spontaneous sexual desire, while women’s sexual desire may be more dependent on context and environment. 

Women’s libidos may fluctuate more than men’s, with some women experiencing peaks in sexual desire around the time of ovulation. Women may also experience changes in libido during pregnancy and after menopause. 

In a 2006 study of 676 people, men reported experiencing sexual desire an average of 37 times per week, while women reported sexual desire an average of 9 times per week. But there is a lot of variability, and both men and women may experience low libido, high libido, and anything in between.

A 1994 study found that around 33% of women and 16% of men reported low sexual desire. Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that 7% of women and 10% of men feel distressed by how hard they find it to control their sexual feelings and behaviors — a sign of overly high libido.


Health recognizes that not everyone who is female was born with female reproductive organs and that not everyone who is male was born with male reproductive organs. Health also recognizes that people may not identify as any one sex or gender. The information in this article is based on how researchers present their results, and the gender- and sex-based language used most accurately reflects their research design and outcomes.

Low Libido

When it comes to libido, there’s no scientific norm. In fact, libido manifests differently from person to person.

Some people regularly experience spontaneous desire, while others need some form of stimulation to get them going. So initiating sex less than your partner doesn’t necessarily mean your libido is too low.

It’s also normal for a person’s libido to fluctuate over time. Sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for sex — or you're too busy to even think about it. And many people experience a drop in libido after the initial "honeymoon phase" of a relationship.

But if you’re suddenly desiring sex much less than you usually do, and you can't explain why, or if you feel concerned about your lack of sexual interest, then it may be time to consider why your libido is low, and what (if anything) to do about it.

Symptoms of Low Libido

Symptoms of low libido include the following:

  • Lack of sexual fantasies
  • Little or no desire for sexual activity
  • Distress caused by lack of sexual interest 

Causes of Low Libido

Some people naturally don’t have much of a sex drive. For others, low libido can have a number of causes.

For example, many people experience a lower libido as they get older. Part of this may be due to a decline in hormones. Regardless of your age, a blood test can reveal whether or not your hormones are low — a common cause of low libido.

Other potential causes of low libido include:

  • Anxiety
  • Body image issues
  • Cultural or religious influence
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Hormonal contraception
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, or menopause
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual incompatibility with partner
  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Underlying health conditions

Some health conditions that can interfere with a person’s libido include:

  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Kidney failure
  • Sexual issues such as pain, anorgasmia, vaginal dryness, premature ejaculation, or erectile dysfunction

A healthcare provider — such as a gynecologist — can help pinpoint the cause of your low libido by taking your medical history, giving you a physical exam, and providing blood tests. The cause of your low libido will determine its treatment.

Treatment Options for Low Libido

By itself, low libido isn’t a problem unless it’s interfering with your quality of life. If that’s the case, then there are several treatments available, including:

  • Sex therapy or relationship counseling
  • Vaginal lubricants to alleviate dryness or pain
  • Stress management
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Switching medication if current medication is contributing to low libido
  • Lifestyle changes such as exercise, mindfulness, yoga, and a healthier diet
  • Eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol use
  • Medications to treat sexual, emotional, or physical health issues that contribute to low libido

High Libido

As with low libido, there’s no scientific standard for an overly high libido. What’s “normal” is different for everyone.

However, you may consider your libido overly high if it causes distress or interferes with your health, relationships, work, or social life.

Symptoms of High Libido

A few symptoms of an overly high libido include:

  • Consistently seeking out high-risk sexual activities
  • Difficulty controlling sexual urges
  • Spending too much time seeking or engaging in sexual activity
  • Using sex as a coping mechanism

Causes of High Libido

Several factors can contribute to an overly high libido, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Certain medicines or other drugs
  • Sadness or stress
  • Trauma

If your libido typically isn’t overly high but has recently spiked, then consider your situation. For example, it is normal to have a higher libido at the beginning of a relationship. It’s also common for libido to increase during puberty and during certain points of the menstrual cycle. 

If your libido has spiked seemingly out of nowhere, then it’s possible that the culprit could be an underlying health condition, such as: 

  • Dementia
  • Klüver-Bucy Syndrome
  • Persistent genital arousal disorder
  • Rabies

If your libido is interfering with your life, or you're concerned about a recent spike in libido that you can't explain, then it may be time to visit a healthcare provider to pinpoint the cause and decide on a treatment.

Treatment Options for High Libido

Since an overly high libido has many potential causes, there are many possible treatments. If an overly high libido is caused by an underlying condition, then treating that condition will also help get your libido under control. If it is caused by a drug, then you may find relief after reducing your dosage or weaning off the drug under the guidance of your doctor.

If your libido puts other people in danger, then residential treatment may be necessary. Otherwise, the following may be helpful:

  • Medication
  • Support groups
  • Therapy (e.g. cognitive behavioral therapy, sex therapy, couples therapy)

A Quick Review

Libido varies from person to person, so you shouldn't be concerned just because yours is different from your friends’ or partner’s. There's nothing necessarily wrong with having a libido that's naturally on the lower or higher end of the spectrum.

But if your libido (or lack thereof) is interfering with your quality of life, or you experience a drastic change in libido that you can't explain, then a healthcare provider can help get to the root of your low or high libido and recommend an appropriate treatment, if necessary.

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