We tend to think of low libido as something that affects mostly older women—but that’s simply not the case. Roughly 40 percent of all women (premenopausal included) report having issues with their levels of desire, and at least 12 percent are troubled enough by them to fall into the category of female sexual dysfunction. (Read more about What’s Killing Your Sex Drive?.)
First things first: if you have low libido and you’re bothered by it, tell your ob-gyn. She’ll be able to rule out biological causes, like certain meds or hormone imbalances, and refer you to a sex therapist who can work with you to create a treatment plan. But in the meantime, these study-proven tricks may also help. (And see these 5 Common Libido-Crushers to Avoid.)
When one half of a couple has low libido, it often creates what Nagoski calls a “chasing dynamic:” One partner asks the other for sex, the other says no. As this continues to happen, the asker starts to feel rejected and frustrated, which makes him even more eager to get that emotional and sexual connection. Meanwhile, the decliner feels stressed and guilty over continually turning him down, which dampens her libido further. To interrupt this cycle, taking a “sex break” of a couple weeks or more can be helpful. This way, you can both focus on repairing and growing your relationship, whether you do that through sex or couples therapy, self-help books, or quality time together.
Whether or not you believe humans are wired to be monogamous, recent research seems to indicate that your sex drive isn’t: As you become more comfortable with a partner, your libido naturally declines, regardless of sexual dysfunction, according to a new report in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. And the effect may be more pronounced in women than in men. That doesn’t mean you have to find a new man in order to revive your sex drive. But other ways of adding some novelty back into your relationship might spike your arousal, like watching different types of porn (instead of falling back on your fave fantasies) or role-playing with your partner (imagine he’s a stranger, for instance). (Or. try these 7 Kinky Upgrades for Your Sex Life.)
Your local drugstore probably has an entire aisle devoted to products that purportedly boost libido. No, not all of them will work. But some might have a modest effect—and, when it comes to desire, the placebo effect is really strong. As Nagoski says, “If I said research shows that red M&Ms are a dangerously successful aphrodisiac, chances are, they’d help someone.” Translation: they’re worth a shot. Just be sure to ask your doctor about what’s safe to take before trying anything new.
Arousal starts in the mind, so it makes sense that mindfulness meditation, which encourages you to pay attention to bodily sensations and focus on the present moment might help women with arousal issues. After just three 90-minute training sessions (spaced two weeks apart), women with sexual dysfunction reported significant improvements in their symptoms, according to a 2008 study from the University of British Columbia. Apps like The Mindfulness App ($2; itunes.com) can help you get started, or visit mbct.com to find a professional training program. (Did you know that working out does wonders for your sex life? Read 7 Ways Exercise Makes You Better in Bed.)
Many women don’t really talk about sex with their close friends. But that means we often walk around feeling abnormal for something that plenty of other women are going through. Nagoski advocates for more openness—but if you can’t bring yourself to spill in person, consider looking at online forums dedicated to sex (like reddit.com/r/sex) and female health (like the the Women’s Health forum at exchanges.webmd.com).
Then try to recreate it. That doesn’t mean you have to revisit the exact place you were, or (if it was with someone other than your current partner) booty-call an ex. But think about the context as well as the sex itself, suggests Nagoski. Maybe you were on vacation without your kids or you were 10 pounds lighter. These all provide clues about controllable things that could be affecting your arousal, like stress or weight. (See more 7 Tips for a Better Orgasm.)