Lacking Libido During Stressful Times

| Posted On May 05, 2022 | By:

Dear Dr. S., where did my libido go? My partner and I have a good relationship. We have been together for 15 years, I feel safe, and I still like him! We have young kids, and we are both working from home. At night, we just collapse into bed. Where has the romance gone, and how can I get my groove back? Please help! LackingLibido

Dear LackingLibido, you are not alone. Let me repeat myself. You (clap!) are (clap!) not (clap!) alone (clap!)! Let me guess, overall, things between you and your partner were coming along fine until about two years ago. Then suddenly, the world was aggressively flipped upside down thanks to a terrifying virus spreading all over the world? Yeah, you may be able to blame this one on COVID-19, although the information and advice in this article apply to other stressful times in your life. Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of patients who come to my office – often in tears – asking me how to improve their decreased libido has skyrocketed.

The Effects of Stress on Libido

Many things can diminish libido, including medical conditions, medication, or a personal history of trauma or assault, an unsafe relationship with an abusive partner, or a partner you no longer connect with. If you fall into one of these categories, you should speak with your provider to address the underlying conditions affecting your health or get advice on how to safely get out of the relationship. The focus of this column is appropriate for those who were overall trucking along fine until BAM – hello, COVID-19!

If we break it down to the basics of life, then it makes perfect sense. Hear me out: when life is good, meaning you have a safe, healthy relationship with your partner, you have job security, and no housing or food instabilities, then your stress is lower, right? Getting a sitter for the kiddos and going out to a nice well deserved dinner date with your mate is not only feasible, it’s fun! This is when we are in a parasympathetic response: rest, digest, and be intimate!

Over the past two years, the sympathetic response (fight or flight) has kicked in. When the fire and the lions (or, in our case, a microscopic virus) come to town, you are too busy fighting and fearing for your life and those of your loved ones. You don’t have time to think about bonding, intimacy, sex, or procreation. Stress produces cortisol which can suppress the arousal response. Again, this makes sense—high cortisol levels as a stress response make it so you can fight the fight, not go and relax and make babies.

Studies also show that the frequency of and desire for intercourse amongst couples with school-aged children decreased significantly with COVID-19. Many thought we would see many more pregnancies as a result of people spending more time together. Instead, we saw a massive decline – think 300-500,000 fewer pregnancies in the United States in the first year of COVID-19. No baby boom—it was a baby bust.

How to Wake Things Up

Having said all this, there are ways to wake things up, LackingLibido. These are some simple, easy steps to take to help get you to a place where you may get your “reawakening,” so to speak.

Things may not change overnight, but as you continue to work on some of the suggestions above, you may be surprised at how implementing some small changes can affect bigger changes. If none of these ideas seem to help, you may need to speak with a sexual health therapist or enlist the aid of sexual wellness podcasts or books (Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski is a good one).

Asking for Help

If you need more help teasing out your issues with your libido or a medical condition is making things worse, please get in touch with your reproductive health clinician or PCP. Do not be afraid to make this the entire topic of the visit. Usually, my patients bring up this very complex, very emotional topic right at the end of our visit. I have said goodbye, I’m walking to the door, and I hear, “Doctor, one more thing!” You will not be the first or last person to bring up libido. This topic is important and truly deserves the attention of your clinician, so be upfront about it.

So LackingLibido, I hear you, I see you. I hope you have been validated by this and have a few tips on how to get the life back in the bedroom. If we have learned anything in the last couple of years, it is that we only get one life to live, and this life is precious and short, so use it well and while you can.

Are you post-menopausal and this column did not apply to you? Look out for my next column that will address libido in postmenopause.

View more articles written by Dr. Stefansson on our blog.

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About Dr. Lilja Stefansson

Dr. Lilja Stefansson (she/her/hers) is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist. She did her residency at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was known as the “Queen of Contraception,” and she loves nothing more than being able to help provide her patients with the knowledge and ability to control their reproductive lives. She loves this so much she completed a fellowship in Complex Family Planning from the University of Chicago. Her other clinical interests include adolescent gynecology, management of abnormal bleeding, and the general care of patients throughout their reproductive lifetime and beyond. In her spare time, you can find her in the garden with her husband, three human babies, and two fur babies.