Libido refers to a person’s desire to engage in sexual activity, more commonly known as sex drive. Men with high libido seek frequent sexual stimulation through a partner or masturbation, whilst those with low libido may have little or no interest in sex. Loss of libido is common, affecting 1 in 20 men. Suffering from low libido can put a strain on intimate relationships and damage self-confidence. Similarly, an extremely high libido can be problematic. Men with an overactive sex drive may feel a loss of control and subsequently engage in sexually compulsive behaviours.
There is a significant difference in the way our culture portrays the male and female sex drive. You’ve probably heard a phrase that suggests men think with their penises, implying that men have such a strong libido that it overrides their rational thinking. In comparison, women are associated with pursuing romantic interests over sexual urges. These views create a misconception that all men have a high libido (if only!).
There is a significant difference in the way our culture portrays the male and female sex drive
How does libido work in men?
The male libido is regulated in the brain. Two key regions have been identified to mediate human libido: the hypothalamus (which manages hormones) and the amygdala (the processor of emotional stimuli). The testosterone and dopamine hormones play a key role in shaping a male’s libido. Testosterone structures male sexual development and dopamine contributes to our pleasure and reward system, which is linked to sexual desire and the ability to trigger erections.
In terms of arousal, males are highly sensitive to visual cues. Research has shown that men can become sexually aroused both mentally and physically through imagery alone. In fact, men can be turned on and even reach climax through their own imagination. Men can orgasm in their sleep without any physical stimulation.
Libido can’t be measured on a scale and isn’t constant, meaning it can change drastically over time.
Brain function plays a primary role in determining the male libido, but it’s also affected by external factors including physical pain, stress, trauma and relationships. Generally, these external influences can be broken down into physiological, psychological and social factors.
Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men. It shapes the development of the penis, testicles, sperm production and libido. A healthy amount of testosterone is crucial for regular sexual function. Testosterone levels fluctuate with age and see a spike during puberty, before gradually decreasing through adulthood.
A decline in testosterone levels is normal. However, if it becomes too low, it can lead to sexual deficiencies such as low libido and erectile dysfunction. Whilst there is a link between testosterone levels and sex drive, only around 28% of men with low testosterone levels have been found to suffer from low libido.
Testosterone therapy can help men suffering from low libido by increasing testosterone to a ‘normal’ level. Such therapy involves supplementing natural testosterone and has shown consistent libido improvements.
With libido deep-rooted in the brain, it comes as no surprise that psychological factors play an important part in sex drive. There are several mental health difficulties that can affect libido, including stress, anxiety and depression.
The American Institute of Stress found that stress causes 57% of Americans to feel paralysed. The most significant sources of stress include work, finances and family. Libido can understandably become affected due to excessive worry associated with everyday life. People can find their minds so consumed with stress that sex is the last thing they think about.
Mental illness is another factor that can impact sex drive. Conditions such as depression often stop people from enjoying activities that they previously found pleasurable, including sexual activity. Many anti-depressants also have side effects that can lower libido. Therefore, suffering from mental health difficulties can be a double-edged sword.
Libido can understandably become affected due to excessive worry associated with everyday life. People can find their minds so consumed with stress that sex is the last thing they think about
Additionally, low libido is commonly reported by people who suffer from trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is especially true if the traumatic experience involves a sexual nature. Re-experiencing the trauma is the most typical symptom of PTSD, resulting in a long-term loss of libido. It can take years of psychological therapy and counselling before a person’s sex drive recovers.
An individual’s social identity and cultural environment can impact their desire for sex. Social groups can influence a person’s view towards sex – some consider it a taboo subject, while others may discuss it openly and embrace sexual experiences. The views of people around us can therefore subconsciously affect our libido.
Each person has their own unique sexual preferences for what ‘turns them on’ and what they consider attractive
Intimate relationships can also have a big effect on our sex drive. Each person has their own unique sexual preferences for what ‘turns them on’ and what they consider attractive. Therefore, such preferences will naturally increase one’s libido. With this in mind, it makes sense for unattractive sexual stimuli to decrease libido.
It’s important not to confuse sexual arousal within a relationship with overall sex drive. A person may stop finding their partner attractive and lose the desire to be sexually intimate with them. This doesn’t mean their overall libido has lowered but may indicate that their sexual preferences have changed.
Online platforms play a huge role in human sexuality and male libido. Pornography and social media sites tend to set idealistic beauty standards and offer a platform to monetize exclusive sexual content. Many men buy into this, which is often detached from reality in terms of both appearance and behaviours of real-life partners. Consuming this sort of content can lead to distorted sexual preferences that are unlikely to be fulfilled in the real world. Men can feel sexually unsatisfied with their partners, who in turn feel inadequate to meet their needs.
Low libido in men: causes and solutions
Low libido in men is more typical than most people think. The most common causes of low sex drive in men and their solutions are summarised in the table below.
Myths and misconceptions about sex libido in men
Men constantly think about sex
You’ve probably heard that “men think about sex every seven seconds”. Although this statement is widely accepted by society, studies show that men think about sex far less frequently.
The Ohio State University carried out research on a group of 18-25 year olds. Tally counters were given to participants to track how often they thought about sex, food and sleep. The results showed that they had sexual thoughts 19 times per day, with food and sleep thoughts coming in at 18 and 11 times per day, respectively. This suggests that men think about sex every 1.26 hours rather than every few seconds.
Men want sex not romance
Another expression you may have heard is that “men only want one thing” (i.e. sex). This is another stereotype that definitely isn’t true. Some men look for casual hook-ups without wanting to commit to a serious relationship. However, there are plenty of men looking for more in a partner, holding their romantic aspirations in higher regard than sexual urges.
there are plenty of men looking for more in a partner, holding their romantic aspirations in higher regard than sexual urges
Men have a higher sex drive than women
Although (studies do suggest) that men have a higher libido than women on average, this doesn’t apply to every relationship. Many intimate relationships can show the opposite and it’s not unusual for women to have a higher libido, influenced by their hormones and menstrual cycle. This might be the case if you find your female partner is seeking out sexual activity more often than you would like to.
Low libido is for older men
Another common myth is associated with testosterone lowering with age. This will depend on individual differences; some men may lose libido with age but others don’t. Low libido can affect men of all ages and not just the old. Similarly, being young doesn’t automatically mean your sex drive will be through the roof.
Libido and medication: when should you see a doctor?
You should seek help from a doctor if your libido is having a negative effect on your quality of life. People often associate libido issues with a low sex drive. However, if your sex drive is too high, sexual urges are just as likely to damage your quality of life as someone who doesn’t get enough.
A sex drive that isn’t compatible with your partner, regardless of wanting to have more or less sex, can become an issue within your relationship
You might find that your libido is putting a strain on your relationship. A sex drive that isn’t compatible with your partner, regardless of wanting to have more or less sex, can become an issue within your relationship. For people with low libido, their partners might not understand the changes in sexual interest. This can affect confidence, create trust issues and lead to feelings of insecurity.
Furthermore, libido can also take its toll on your mental health. If you aren’t in a relationship, an irregular libido can leave you feeling inadequate and discourage you from seeking out romantic partners. This can lead to low mood, poor self-esteem and feelings of dissatisfaction.