Youthful fervour or timeless fire: the fluctuations of libido throughout our lifetimes

Alice Matty delves deep into the changes in sex drive throughout our lifetime

Fluctuations of Libido

If you’ve experienced a lack of sexual drive in your college years, chances are you’re not alone. Libido is a psychological term that describes the drive or energy for sexual activity, which varies dramatically from one person to the next. It also differs depending on an individual’s preferences and life circumstances. Libido is complex and is influenced by biological, psychological and social factors. Biologically, sex hormones and neurotransmitters regulate libido. In short, sexual desire can be affected by a variety of factors: medical conditions, hormone levels, medications, lifestyle, and relationship problems to name a few.

Libido Throughout the Years

Libido typically tends to develop in early teenagehood; some people may express romantic or sexual interest between ages 10-12. Libido naturally reaches a peak in males during their adolescence or in their 20s, while women reach their sexual peak during the mid-30s, just as men’s sexual interest begins to wane.

Many young people experience an absence of libido early during their adulthood, which can sometimes coincide with first-time sexual encounters. At times, adults will experience no sexual desire at all. However, there is a distinction to be made between asexuality and low libido: the two independent experiences are indeed characterised by a lack of sexual desire and activity, but they are not synonymous. Asexuality refers to a person’s capacity to experience sexual attraction for others, while libido is a measurement of interest in having sex. Our capacity for sexual attraction does not equate to interest in having sex. Asexuality is an identity label that carries no underlying condition, whereas low libido is a temporary state of being which can at times be reflective of a larger medical issue.

Levels of testosterone usually decrease throughout a man’s lifetime, reaching their peak in teenage years and declining thereafter. Mirroring this dip in testosterone, libido also tends to decline as men get older. One’s libido is fostered throughout adulthood, which is also when it tends to reach its climax; it is common for both men and women to experience a gradual decline in libido as they age.

Unpredictable Spikes

Libido naturally varies from person to person and can fluctuate throughout your life due to hormonal changes, age and stress. A low libido is a decrease in the frequency or intensity of the sexual desire that you once had, characterised by a decreased interest in any type of sex; a decrease in thoughts of sex; or feeling distressed about having a low desire for sexual activity. This is more common than one might think, occurring in one in five men, and even more frequently in women. Reduced libido can be temporary or long-term. Many people experience a drop in sex drive more than once during their lives.

Libido naturally varies from person to person and can fluctuate throughout your life due to hormonal changes, age and stress.

A reduced sex drive can be a side effect of some medications. In particular, some antidepressants have an established side effect of decreasing libido. Many factors besides medical conditions and their side effects can contribute to a lowered sex drive, including performance anxiety, fatigue, familiarity, depression and sexual turn-offs, among others. So if you’re experiencing a lack of libido in your college years, this is understandable/isn’t surprising .

Women and men typically experience a lowered sexual desire as a result of varying conditions. For women, menopause, sexual dysfunction (such as vaginismus), infections (vaginal yeast infections/UTIs) or reproductive health conditions (i.e. endometriosis, PMS, PCOS, etc.) can all contribute to a declining sexual urge. Contraceptives like the pill, which contain hormones, can also decrease one’s interest in sex. Alongside this, a dip in oestrogen and an increased level of progesterone towards the end of the menstrual cycle can also cause a slump in desire.

While female libido levels tend to fluctuate throughout menstruation cycles, male libido tends to fluctuate over a shorter period with testosterone levels rising and falling throughout the day. In other ways, medical conditions that can lead to a decrease in sexual desire in men include low testosterone (male hypogonadism) or sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. Ultimately, random spikes in libido and its overall instability can have consequential effects on focus, self-image or confidence, as well as intimacy with another partner.

The other end of the spectrum exists where one may have a relatively high sex drive. There is nothing wrong with having a high sexual drive – it can be a perfectly natural part of a healthy sex life. However, an overly high libido may become a problem if it starts to interfere with everyday life, such as sex addiction and sexual urges that may hinder the enjoyment of other activities.

Treatment Options

It may be possible to increase libido naturally. Although treatment for a lessened sex drive works on a case by case basis, it can include treatment for any underlying medical conditions, such as depression, counselling or hormone therapy. Hormone therapy, including oestrogen therapy and oestrogen-progesterone/progestin hormone therapy (EPT) may boost hormone levels and relieve some of the symptoms of menopause, including low libido. Similarly, hormone therapy for low testosterone deals with testosterone replacement therapy in the form of pills, creams, injections, patches, and others.

Alternative medicines are also available, yet with less certain outcomes. One option is a herbal supplement blend called Avlimil, which has oestrogen-like effects on the body. While oestrogen may boost your sex drive, it may also fuel the growth of certain breast cancers. Another option is a botanical massage oil called Zestra. It is applied to the clitoris, and may increase arousal and pleasure; however, it can result in mild burning in the genital area. Specialised clinics are available on Trinity campus to treat specific ailments, or to seek further information close to home.

As mentioned above, one’s level of libido may fluctuate throughout different life stages, and can be influenced by a wide range of factors. There’s no one correct libido level: any level is sustainable as long as you are comfortable with it. Inconsistencies in sex drive throughout your university years shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. However, if you want to influence your level of libido, there are a few possibilities to influence desire through hormone treatment, medication or lifestyle changes.

Inconsistencies in sex drive throughout your university years shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Alice Matty

Alice Matty is a Sex and Relationships Deputy Editor and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying Economics and Business.