All humans experience amazing days and bad days. It starts off on the wrong side of the bed but then changes into the remainder of the day being joyous. We experience mood swings or moments when we feel like we are our best self. It all is a part of life. When thinking about libido and arousal, let's make it a habit of normalizing that like moods, it has its ebbs and flows. This is nothing to be worried about! It's normal. Repeat after me, “the change in libido and arousal is normal!” Some days we may be aroused while other days we may not want to be bothered. These changes can happen all in the same day depending on what is going on. Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be us, it can be our partner, an event, or just an overall lack of interest in the activity. All in all, whatever the reason for the change, know that it’s completely ordinary. We will discuss some of the common concerns about arousal and libido, including what the difference is, what can be done to enhance/inhibit libido, and really highlight that there are several peaks and valleys across the lifespan when arousal and libido can soar and descend.
When investing in pleasure, there will be a natural progression of libido and arousal. An individual’s health is their wealth. When the body is not active and conducting its daily activities, it can offset one’s libido and arousal. Thinking of the body as a power source can help with these issues. When the body goes without food and sleep it eventually will lack nourishment and energy. Given libido and arousal are both components that deal specifically with exerting energy whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, they constantly need to be replenished. Consider this, if the body is overworked, tired, and it is not receiving meals regularly, how might this affect the body daily? Will it respond positively or negatively?
When arousal and libido are low, think of it as a reminder to center and get back to what is pleasing. However, remember to normalize that libido and arousal are meant to fluctuate as part of the balance the body naturally endures.
What is Arousal?
Arousal is created by the things that stimulate us, it is ignited by all the senses: sight, taste, hear, scent, and touch. Arousal is defined as our psychological and physiological response to sexual stimuli. When aroused, typically the heart rate increases, some perspire, and others become super energetic. Other signs of arousal can be genital erection, sensitivity to touch, pupil dilation, increased heart rate and body temperature, and maybe an increased sense of smell. Listening to the bodies’ response can be a sign for whether it likes or dislikes what is happening to or around it. Imagine all the information processed every day, it is important to ensure that the body is nourished and rested for effectively processing what stimulates or blocks them from pleasure.
Surroundings Matter: How Environment Affects Arousal
There are a variety of components that enhance and detract from what turns you on.
Surroundings can play a major role in how you experience sexual desire. For Tough Love Relationship Coach and Sexuality Educator, Dakota Ramppen, creating a physical space that presents a sensual energy and feels like an oasis is very important. How one cultivates the environment plays an important part in achieving pleasure successfully. When the mood is set for pleasure, be aware of the surroundings. Remember to surround yourself with things that will bring peace, joy, and excitement instead of things that are reminders of how cumbersome and convoluted life can be. This includes thinking about overactive to-do lists, other responsibilities, distractions i.e., social media, technology, and sometimes people. When focusing on pleasure, at that moment the only responsibility you have is yourself. It’s okay to be stingy when it comes to setting that time for yourself and to think about all the ways you can relax, relate, and release.
What is needed to create a space that is conducive to feeling good? Does it consist of natural sounds, plush pillows and blankets, or calming scents like lavender? After finding what works, journal about how creating the space helped spark arousal and the feelings afterward. Still unsure of what kind of environment is needed to become aroused? Create a Pinterest board or a vision board that personally defines what a pleasure space looks like. Then make it happen.
Given that we have discussed arousal and how external factors influence it, let's discuss libido.
What is Libido, or Low Sexual Desire?
Derived from the Latin word for desire, libido is what is described as sexual drive. Libido is all about what is going on in the brain, rather than what is happening with the genitals. Sexual desire is affected by biological, psychological, and social factors. Biologically, the body produces sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen, and dopamine which send signals to the brain that help you understand what is satisfying and unpleasant.
Being stressed out, overthinking, depressed, or anxious, can affect libido because of the body not producing sex hormones, it is producing cortisol, a stress hormone. When this occurs, the body is working overtime to regulate the amount of cortisol in the body in efforts to stabilize. When experiencing stress or depression, you may not think about pleasure and the body will act as an armor of defense to protect itself.
Work related stress and family issues can also affect libido and the ability to center pleasure. Remember, managing your sex drive is about being conscious of what factors are negatively affecting sexual desire.
Inhibitors for Libido
Depending on where you are in the life span, age and hormonal changes can affect libido. For example, someone in their early 50s may be experiencing menopause (for females) and andropause, the decrease in testosterone (for males). While, if you are in your mid 20s or early 30s, you may experience an increase in libido given your body is navigating through fertility cycles. For men, the shift in sexual desire varies as it peaks during mid 20s and gradually decreases over time.
Medications like antidepressants, blood pressure, and radiation can contribute to the decrease in sexual desire. Medications such as Prozac and Lexapro for depression and Propranolol for high blood pressure can decrease sexual arousal, genital responsiveness, and alter serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain that can affect mood and sexual desire. The same goes with lack of sleep and not eating healthy and other personal care habits that can negatively impact your sexual experiences. It is important to understand how different medicines, foods, as well as mental and physical health can have an overall effect on libido.
Another common cause for low libido is chronic illness and pain. When the body is in pain it is hard to focus on and experience the things that feel good. You might feel discouraged due to your pain and feel unable to experience pleasure. However, taking the time to speak with your doctor may be helpful in finding ways to manage pain and access more pleasure.
Alcohol and drug usage can inhibit libido because it typically leads to sexual sensitivity, such as lack of vaginal lubrication, delay in orgasm, or inability to keep in an erection. Essentially, the brain is not able to communicate with the genitals in a way that will maximize pleasure for the individual.
Other inhibitors can include issues with your partner and overall sexual boredom. Sometimes just thinking about the things that a partner does or does not do can cause a dip in one’s libido. Is the sex boring, does it happen in the same location or same position, or is there a lack of intimacy or foreplay? The first thing to do is to be able to identify and address the problem areas.
Enhancers of Libido
There are several things that can positively affect libido. Eating habits can enhance libido, so consider eating foods like figs, avocados, or chocolate. Figs are high in amino acids and rich in natural sugars, so they boost energy which is like a vitamin for the sex drive. Avocados are high in vitamin B6 and monounsaturated fat (a healthy fat) which can decrease symptoms like fatigue and irritability and increase blood flow to sex organs by lowering cholesterol levels. Chocolate has ingredients that release serotonin (a neurotransmitter that regulates satisfaction) as well as PEA (Phenylethylamine) a compound that is a mood enhancer. Therefore, eating chocolate will contribute to feeling good.
Exercise and meditation can also help with libido. Exercise releases endorphins, which are chemical hormones that are released into the brain that help the body receptors identify what is pleasurable and painful. Resting of course allows your body to reset so that when you are ready to get intimate, you have the energy. Meditation and deep breath exercises are helpful because they support oxygen flow through the body, including to sex organs. Meditation supports emotional wellness and self-awareness which is important in being able to compartmentalize elements of one’s life when they want to focus on their pleasure.
Trauma as it Relates to Arousal and Libido
Trauma can play a huge factor in arousal. and it is important to understand how the body responds. When the body experiences trauma, it can produce responses in both physical and physiological ways. Physically, this can look like the genitals becoming deflated because the initial sexual response has been disturbed. This is the body’s way of protecting itself or signaling displeasure. Perspiration, heavy breathing, or muscle tension may also occur when the body is experiencing trauma. These sensations help you recognize what is going on in your body. Physiological responses can be anxiety, fear, disassociation, agitation, or even anger. Being able to establish where and how the body is harboring the response can explain why an individual is not aroused or displaying an interest in sexual desire.
The body is a physical representation of what is going on internally so stress and anxiety also contribute to low libido and sexual arousal. When overly stressed or anxious, it’s almost like the mind is being overworked to regulate the body's response, which inhibits the mind in creating hormones like dopamine and oxytocin which produce happiness, pleasure, and overall good feelings.
Gentle Reminders for Managing Arousal and Libido
Understanding why you may experience low sexual desire and arousal is about exploring what is mentally, physically, and emotionally pleasing. It is also about being intentional and taking an active role in understanding how biological, psychological, and social factors whether internal or external play a role in what we find ourselves to be attracted to and aroused by. These factors also can hinder sexual arousal and libido.
Nonetheless, remember that it is completely normal for your arousal and libido to change. Fluctuation throughout your lifespan as you experience different components of life is to be expected.
Once again, it’s all about understanding your stimulants. You can work on increasing arousal and libido by creating spaces that support mental excitement, sensual energy, being able to appropriately manage and understand your triggers, exercising, meditating, and eating foods that are rich in vitamins like B6 and monounsaturated fats, and serotonin producers. Lastly, allowing the body to flow in and out of its states of arousal and libido with curiosity and compassion is always a healthy practice.
If this has resonated with you, reach out to explore ways I can support you in exploring your triggers, identifying turn ons and offs, and creating a space that encourages your sexual exploration and play.