According to a 1999 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study, about 43 percent of women (compared to 31 percent of men) suffer sexual inadequacy for one reason or another. Interestingly, this is thought to actually underestimate the real level of sexual dysfunction in the U.S.!
Low libido is a serious problem for women. Unfortunately, it can come about from many different causes. Fortunately, with a low stress life style and nutrient-rich, healing diet, you can overcome most of the causes without even really trying.
Knowing about the causes can help you even further. Here is a list of the most common causes of low libido in women:
Causes of Low Libido for Women 1) Stress
Stress is perhaps the greatest of all problems for women’s libidos.
The thing is – you can have every single physical duck in a row, but if you are worried about anything, anything at all in your life, and you don’t have the mental peace and space to allow for sexual exploration and thinking, you will not be able to feel sexual drives.
Of course, it is possible to be stressed out and have a libido – sure! But for women who suffer from low libido, stress is one of the most common culprits.
Stress is a problem because it affects you physically, for one thing. It decreases production of important sex hormones like estrogen. Without estrogen it is nearly impossible to have a libido.
Yet it is also a problem because it affects you psychologically. The female body needs to feel perfectly safe (generally speaking) in order to have good sex… so if you are worried about work, missing sleep over finances, or struggling with your self-esteem in the bedroom (you can read more about what I think about that here in a post on orgasms and here in another post on libido), there is a very good chance your libido will suffer.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 2) Inflammation (& Overweight)
More than being overweight, inflammation is a problem for libido because it impedes both hormone and neurotransmitter function. Without hormones like estrogen and testosterone doing their work, and without happy chemicals like dopamine and serotonin to connect them to the brain, it is very hard to have a robust libido.
But I mention being overweight as well because 1) many people who are overweight have at least some degree of systemic inflammation, and 2) because being overweight is often a psychological problem for many women.
If you feel self-conscious about your body (which you shouldn’t – you can read my best-selling book on bodies and confidence to hear more about why), you may struggle to be able to focus on otherwise awesome things in the bedroom – like how sexy your partner is, how sexy you are, or how good your body feels.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 3) Under-eating / Dieting / Over-exercising
Under-eating, dieting, over-exercising, intermittent fasting, calorie counting, very low fat diets and very low carbohydrate diets are all surefire ways to tank your libido.
Because the female body is super sensitive to starvation signals. If it weren’t, and it became pregnant out in the wild during a famine, it would struggle to survive, and in all likelihood die. In order to prevent stressful pregnancies, therefore, female bodies are inherently wired to shut down reproductive function (and therefore reproductive desire) at the drop of a hat.
I cannot tell you how many women I work with who regain their libidos after gaining some fat (if they are much thinner than they used to be), adding carbohydrates back to their diets, or ceasing intermittent fasting. You can read more about the importance of carbohydrates for women in this post, signs you may be over-exercising in this one, or why intermittent fasting may be dangerous here.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 4) Low fat
Low fat diets deserve individual attention because they are so commonly the cause of low libido in women.
A very low fat diet (less than 30 grams of fat a day, in my estimation) is problematic for libido because it fails to deliver to the body the tools it needs to make hormones. Hormones are made out of fat. Without fat in the diet, the female body’s hormone production falters. So without fat in the diet, your libido will suffer as well.
Aim for at very minimum one tablespoon (about 14 grams) of fat per meal, three times a day.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 5) Low carb
Low carbohydrate diets also deserve indidivual attention because they are so commonly the cause of low libido in women.
A very low carbohydrate diet (less than 50 grams of carbohydrate a day) can hinder thyroid function.
Without healthy thyroid function, reproductive hormones and organs do not get the energy they need to work robustly.
Aim for at very minimum 50 grams of starchy carbs (sweet potatoes, rice) or fruit every day. I prefer to start my clients with 100 grams of carbs, but if you are fearful of them you can start with 50 and work your way up to a comfortable level from there.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 6) Hypothyroidism
As I just mentioned, hypothyroidism is a big problem for libido. It prevents reproductive organs from being able to do their jobs properly.
There are two primary categories of hypothyroidism (though of course there are many more ways to categorize it).
The first kind to which I am referring is a ‘simple’ slow down, likely the result of a low carb diet, excessive exercise or stress. This can be rectified by eating more (especially carbohydrates), and reducing stress.
The second kind to which I am referring is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune condition that must be treated like an autoimmune disease, and which may require thyroid hormone supplementation. Sarah Ballantyne’s The Paleo Approach is an excellent guide to autoimmune healing.
For my favorite guide to thyroid disorders, check out Izabella Wentz’s best-selling Root Cause.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 7) PCOS
PCOS is a hormone condition that affects 15-20% of American women, making it the leading cause of infertility in the United States.
While causing infertility, acne, difficulty with weight loss, and risk for diseases like type II diabetes and heart disease, PCOS also usually has a negative effect on libido.
PCOS is characterized by an irregular or absent menstrual cycle, by elevated testosterone levels, and by having cysts on the ovaries. If you suffer from irregular cycles you may wish to investigate whether or not you have PCOS. You can read more about PCOS in this post: what is PCOS, or check out my globally-cited manual on the condition PCOS Unlocked.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 8) Birth control pills
Birth control pills can be a serious problem for a lot of women for a lot of reasons. Low libido is one of these many potential issues.
Birth control pills – and other forms of hormonal birth control like the Nuva Ring, insert, or patch – contain high levels of artificial types of estrogen and progesterone in them.
Sometimes taking pills helps balanace women’s hormones…
Yet more of than not it has a negative effect on hormone balance, at least where libido is concerned.
If your libido appears to have plummeted when you began taking the pill, either consider getting on a lower dose pill (here is a list of my favorite low dose pills), a variety of the pill that contains more estrogen relative to progesterone (since progesterone can hinder libido), or a hormone-free alternative like the copper IUD or prophylactics.
I have a PDF quick guide to birth control from a paleo perspective available for download here, if you’d like.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 9) Low estrogen (relative to progesterone)
It is hard to tell from looking at medical journals which hormones do precisely what for women’s bodies, particularly when it comes to libido.
Medical journals seem to prove that hormones are important for libido… but not really get any more specific than that.
One thing that is clear, however, is that when progesterone levels are elevated relative to estrogen, libido suffers.
This makes sense evolutionarily: progesterone is secreted after ovulation, so your body isn’t trying so hard to get you to have sex at this time. Estrogen, on the other hand, is secreted right before ovulation, so this is prime time for your body to try to arouse you.
So if you use a progesterone cream, or if you suffer from low estrogen levels from any variety of causes, then this is definitely a problem for your libido worth addressing. This is also a potential issue if you are pregnant, post-partum, or breast-feeding, as progesterone levels rise at these times. The solution in this case is patience.
You can read a bit more about progesterone and stress here, and about some of the causes of low estrogen levels here.
Causes of Low Libido for Women 10) Menopause
Menopause is the final cause – and perhaps the trickiest one to fix – of low libido for women.
During peri-menopause, menopause, and after menopause, hormone levels are in the process of falling, and then remain relatively low.
The ovaries themselves stop making hormones. Since the ovaries are the primary source of estrogen in the female body, libido suffers.
The ovaries also make testosterone and progesterone. Yet testosterone is produced also by the pituitary and adrenal glands, and progesterone levels need to be present, but not quite as much as estrogen, for a robust libido. Fortunately, estrogen is still produced by fat cells, but that is often not enough to make up for the plummeting hormone levels.
There are a few things you can do about this.
1) eat a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet full of organic vegetables and fruits, organ meats (here’s a supplement in case you do not like to eat liver), eggs, fermented foods (here are my favorites) and the rockstar superfood cod liver oil, which will help assure that all of your organs are functioning well and your inflammation levels are a low as possible,
2) Be sure to eat at least 75 grams of protein a day to help bolster neurotransmitter status (you may also wish to consider a tyrosine or tryptophan supplement which can help dopamine and serotonin production, respectively)
3) Consider low dose short-term hormone-replacement therapy, though I prefer to think of that as a last resort,
or 4) experiment with phytoestrogens like legumes (chick peas, black beans), nuts (macademia nuts, cashews), or small amounts of soy or flax in your diet. These foods act like estrogen in the body and may be able to help give you the libido boost you need. Each woman’s body is different so you won’t know how these affect you until you give them a shot.
And that’s about it for causes of low libido!
Stress and other psychological factors are huge, soooo huge, but physiological factors can also be a big problem. I know at least they were for me… I personally had such a low libido due to starvation, low body fat and excess exercise that I couldn’t even bear the thought of kissing someone. This lasted for years.
I am happy to report that this is no longer the case.
Definitely no longer the case. 🙂
Here is a list of things I recommended for reference:
Izabella Wentz’s Root Cause (for thyroid)
Sarah Ballantyne PhD’s The Paleo Approach
Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution
Birth Control Unlocked: Your Body, Your Options, Your Guide
Note - some links above may contain affiliate links. You don't pay more, but we get a small cut to help keep this organization running. It's tough to balance ethics with the need to stay alive. Thank you for your patience and understanding!
Hi Stefani, hope you’re well!
Thanks for the post, which is great, EXCEPT I completely disagree with your take on post-menopausal HRT … and hope you change your mind before you get there! I am a big proponent of carefully managed bio-identical HRT for men and women. I believe it adds both years (that gets scientific and disputable, but I will defend it) and tremendous extra quality to the lives of folks as they get older.
Speaking specifically about women, estradiol receptors in the brain and bones are very happily activated when absent estradiol is replaced bio-identically. Progesterone is nature’s valium, which can help you sleep and chill, or make you a little down: how it’s prescribed can make a big difference. And testosterone…well, need I elaborate on that one? Boosting systemic levels and sometimes a little local topical application can make huge differences in muscle mass, bone strength and, of course, libido!
What’s your thinking on why it should be short-term?
I mean, I’m a proponent of at least SOME use, which you won’t find in other natural health bloggers and the life. The reason I hesitate to recommend long term use is that the correlation between HRT and female specific cancers has not been thoroughly studied. Some researchers think there is a link, so if possible I recommend stepping carefully around it
And the top secret #1 cause for a “loss of a woman’s libido” is…
Loss of sexual attraction to her boyfriend or husband.
You won’t hear them talking about that pretty much anywhere, though 😉
yeah! for real. I agree. partnership relations should be at the absolute top of the list.