You used to want to tear your husband’s clothes off. Now? Not so much. If you’ve been suffering from “honey, not tonight” syndrome (a.k.a. low sex drive), health experts say you’re not alone. It’s estimated that as many as 40 million women in the United States suffer from a waning libido. Here are 10 of the most common—and surprising—reasons why your sex drive may have taken a nosedive, and how to get your groove back.
Sex Drive Stealer #1: Messy Bedroom
What does your bedroom look like right now? Is the bed unmade? Are your dressers piled high with books, magazines and dust? Past research has linked bedroom clutter with unhappiness and mild depression, but some experts take it a step further and say that a messy bedroom could be the cause of a lackluster sex drive. “We do know that women, more so than men, are prone to cognitive distractions—thinking of other things in ways that interfere with sex,” says Debby Herbenick, PhD, author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
A messy bedroom could increase such cognitive distractions. “It could make you think ‘I should really get new curtains’ or ‘Look at that stack of bills—I hope I already paid the electric!'” Dr. Herbenick says. “Mess is a reminder of all the things we haven’t done yet. This can greatly interfere with a sense of calm, which can help women to relax, focus exclusively on their feelings of love and desire, and then get in the mood for sex.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: Tackle the clutter, and other distracting things in your boudoir. “If you and your partner watch too much TV, move it to the living room. If there’s a stack of mail or bills, put them in a room that you associate with work, not sleep or sex,” recommends Dr. Herbenick.
Sex Drive Stealer #2: Anger
If you’re unsure why your sex drive has tanked lately, consider this surprising source: repressed anger. According to Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a psychologist and relationship expert for PerfectMatch.com, it’s one of the biggest causes of low sex drive in women. She says, “Women who have a lot of feelings of anger toward their partner—whether it’s annoyance that he didn’t help around the house or something more serious—don’t feel like having sex. Anger quashes all desire.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: “Track down the source of the anger, and deal with it,” advices Dr. Schwartz. Whether it’s anger over his lack of empathy or the fact that he didn’t do the dishes last night, “don’t let anger become toxic to your relationship.”
Sex Drive Stealer #3: Perfectionism
Your husband’s in the mood, but you’re not. After all, how could you be? There’s unfolded laundry piled high on the bed, you just got back from the gym (and haven’t even showered yet) and the baby is probably going to wake up for his 9 p.m. feeding any second. Sound familiar? “Perfectionism places a huge burden on sex drive,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, MS, PT, a psychologist and physical therapist in Dallas. “A perfectionist thinks she needs to look and smell perfect, her mate must be perfect and the environment must be perfect.” Here’s the problem: “This state of perfection, of course, is impossible,” she continues. “Because of this, the perfectionist is stressed out about the flaws rather than enjoying time with her partner.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: “Give yourself, and your partner, a break,” says Dr. Lombardo. “Make your goal to have fun and enjoy intimacy rather than have it be perfect. That’s all he wants from you, after all.”
Sex Drive Stealer #4: The Economy
Could it be possible that the recession has entered…your bedroom? Indeed, says Dr. Lombardo. Call it a ro-cession (romance + recession) if you like, but the truth is, financial worries can have serious effects on libido. “Worry can deplete any sex drive, and it doesn’t have to be about the relationship or sex,” explains Dr. Lombardo. “Lately, a lot of my clients who are worried about the economy, losing their jobs, or not being able to retire when they had planned are also complaining of having no desire for physical intimacy. Research shows stress and worry top the causes for low sex drive.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: If you can’t make your worries go away, says Dr. Lombardo, try to get a handle on them at least. Instead of lying in bed at night thinking about how much money you lost in the stock market or whether you’re going to be able to make your house payment, tell yourself you’re only allowed to worry at certain times of the day. “Schedule some time to worry,” she says. “This may seem odd, but research shows that doing this will actually decrease your worrying.” She adds, “Physical intimacy is a great way to combat stress and worry.” So think of sex as a form of therapy.
Sex Drive Stealer #5: Unresolved Trauma
Was your house broken into last year? Did a close relative die recently? Are you still feeling the effects of a traumatic birth—months, years later? “While trauma may have happened in the past, it can continue to affect you, and your sex drive,” says Dr. Lombardo. In fact, “some mental health professionals believe that decreased libido should be a necessary diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: “Even though it may have happened in the past, you can address your reaction to the trauma,” she says. When it makes sense, “forgive the person who wronged you.” But also forgive yourself. “I often find my clients blame themselves for others’ acts.” And, do “seek professional assistance if you need to. You and your loved ones deserve it,” she says.
Sex Drive Stealer #6: High Cholesterol
A recent article in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found a correlation between high cholesterol and women who report difficulty with arousal and orgasm. Here’s why: “Cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries of the body, including those to the pelvic area,” says Dr. Stephanie Buehler, PsyD, a psychologist and sex therapist in Irvine, California. “Researchers speculate that when blood flow to the pelvic area is restricted, there can be less sensation in the genitals. That can make orgasm more difficult, which can in turn make sex frustrating.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: Change your diet! Dr. Buehler suggests reducing the amount of whole-milk products and animal fats you consume while upping your intake of fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich foods, which could help block the absorption of cholesterol in the bloodstream and improve your sexual health.
Sex Drive Stealer #7: Birth Control
It’s ironic that the thing that is supposed to make sex feel more freeing and comfortable could be the thing that makes your sex drive flatline, but it’s true, says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University School of Medicine. Hormone-based birth control, she says, increases your sex hormone binding globulin, which reduces testosterone. That’s medical speak for “there’s a good chance your birth control pills might be messing with your sex drive.”
How to Feel Sexy Again: Consider a copper intrauterine device for more lasting, and hormone-free, birth control; switch back to condoms (they’re not that bad); or talk to your doctor about changing your prescription, especially if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness coupled with a disinterest in sex. Remember, the contraceptive that works for one woman’s libido may not for another. “It’s different for every woman and depends on the formulation,” says Dr. Millheiser.
Sex Drive Stealer #8: Undiagnosed Thyroid Problem
It’s only about the size of a golf ball, but your thyroid may be wreaking havoc on your libido. According to Dr. Millheiser, one of the symptoms of the underactive thyroid condition known as hypothyroidism—along with weight gain, hair loss, dry skin and fatigue—is a faltering sex drive.
How to Feel Sexy Again: Make an appointment to see your doctor. A simple blood test can diagnose hypothyroidism, which is easily treatable with medication.
Sex Drive Stealer #9: No Date Nights
According to Dr. John Beiter, PhD, a Pittsburgh-based psychologist and sex therapist, if you don’t have a date night planned with your husband and can’t remember the last time you sat down and connected—even if it was just across the kitchen table—your sex drive may be suffering. “In my research to date, I have discovered that women with low sex drive often have a lack of emotional connection with their partners,” says Dr. Beiter.
How to Feel Sexy Again: Plan a date night, of course! In fact, go ahead and e-mail this article to your husband right now, asking him to make reservations at your favorite restaurant tonight. But here’s some homework for the bedroom: Dr. Beiter says he encourages couples to “move away from a performance-based sexuality, where sex is typically defined as intercourse and mandatory orgasms.” Instead, he suggests taking up “pleasure-based sexuality, where the focus is on pleasure, fun and intimacy.”
Sex Drive Stealer #10: You’re Nursing
You had your adorable bundle of joy months ago and lost (most) of the pregnancy weight, so why hasn’t your sex drive returned? If you’re still nursing, blame your breasts. As it turns out, prolactin, the hormone that’s responsible for lactation, is a real buzz kill for the libido, decreasing your body’s production of estrogen and testosterone. “This can lead to vaginal dryness and lack of sex drive,” explains Dr. Millheiser.
How to Feel Sexy Again: First, applaud yourself for investing in the health of your baby, says Dr. Millheiser, and remember that it’s only temporary. After all, you’re not going to be breastfeeding your baby forever! In the meantime, use plenty of lubricant and try not to feel frustrated at your body’s slowness to feel aroused.