Lack of libido is more common in women than men, but it significantly affects both sexes. In fact, research shows that 32 percent of women and 15 percent of men lack the desire to have sex regularly. (1)
Whether you’re on the lower or higher end of the age spectrum, a low libido can strike at any year of your life for a whole variety of reasons, including low testosterone, depression, stress, relationship issues, sexual dysfunction, prescription medications, being overweight, too little or too much exercise, sleep apnea and drug or alcohol use. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) Naturally, many people wonder how to increase libido.
If you have little to no sex drive, you’re definitely not alone. The great news is that there are a lot of natural remedies to increase libido, and you can start increasing your sex drive naturally today.
If a higher sex drive is your goal, then it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. For instance, decreasing your stress levels, improving your sleep, adding more natural aphrodisiacs to your meals and exercising the right amount to put your mind and body back into a libido-encouraging state are all techniques for how to increase libido without potentially harmful drugs.
What Is Libido? Why Does It Disappear Among Some of Us?
Libido is defined as a person’s overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity. Low libido in women and low libido in men have some similar roots, along with some gender-specific ones as well.
For men, it’s actually quite normal to have a gradual decrease in libido as a man gets older. Each man is different, but most men tend to have some amount of sexual desire into their 60s and 70s. If aging isn’t at the root of libido decrease, a man may be depressed or experiencing too much stress. Other possible causes of low sex drive in men are medication side effects, a decrease in male sex hormones due to an endocrine disorder or sleep apnea. A little-known fact is that sleep apnea can lead to an unusually low testosterone level. (8)
Low testosterone can also cause erectile dysfunction (ED), a condition in which a man can’t get or maintain an erection. While both issues may involve low testosterone, ED and low libido do not necessarily equate or even happen at the same time, although they’re thought of as common “comorbidities” (concurrent conditions). Low libido is actually more common in men with premature or delayed ejaculation than it is those with erectile dysfunction. (4) Men who have a hard time getting or maintaining an erection often have a normal or even high sex drive.
When it comes to a low sex drive in women, there can be many causes. According to sex psychologist Sheryl Kingsberg, Ph.D, “Women’s sexuality tends to be multifaceted and fairly complicated.” (9)
Common causes of a loss of sexual desire or low libido in women include issues in your relationship with your sexual partner, sociocultural influences (job stress, media images of sexuality, etc. ) and medical conditions (like fibroids, endometriosis and thyroid problems).
Low testosterone doesn’t just cause sexual issues for men; women can also experience low testosterone. Female testosterone levels peak in the mid-20s and then steadily decrease until a woman goes through menopause. After menopause, female testosterone levels drop dramatically, and sex drive can drop dramatically as well. Birth control pills and other forms of hormonal pregnancy prevention can also have negative effects on a woman’s desire for sexual activity. (10)
When it comes to how to increase your libido, there are two key biological chemicals that may affect your level of sexual desire whether you’re a man or woman: dopamine and prolactin. It’s theorized that dopamine increases desire while prolactin decreases it. If you take any medications, it’s important to know that some can increase prolactin release or inhibit dopamine release. Either of these two scenarios can decrease sexual desire and also cause other sexual side effects. (11)
In men, low prolactin has been linked with multiple signs of poor sexual health and psychological health. Low prolactin levels are also associated with a larger body mass index (BMI), high blood sugar levels, lower levels of physical activity and just generally feeling unhealthier. (12)
Relationship issues, depression, prescription medications, alcoholism, drug abuse and/or chronic diseases like diabetes can all be at the root of low sex drive for both sexes.
A BMI that’s too high can also cause problems for both men and women when it comes to libido. Obese men tend to struggle with erectile difficulty, but studies have shown that losing only a small percent of weight can improve both male and female sexual function. A study conducted at Duke University reports that obese people are 25 times more likely to report sexual problems. (13)
How to Increase Libido Through Diet
Let’s talk about how to increase libido through your diet, which includes what you should eat more of and what you should avoid or reduce significantly.
Foods that Increase Libido
Collagen-rich foods: Collagen production naturally declines with age. This has a direct negative effect on skin health and makes it harder to keep skin firm. This phenomenon can make it harder for men to maintain an erection, and it may lead to a looser vaginal wall in women. (14) To increase your collagen levels, you can consume more bone broth and opt for a collagen supplement and/or a protein powder made from bone broth. Vitamin C also helps to increase collagen production.
Watermelon: In 2008, research conducted at Texas A&M demonstrated that watermelon may have a “Viagra effect.” The phytonutrients known as lycopene, beta-carotene and citrulline found in watermelon help relax blood vessels. While watermelon might not be as organ-specific as erectile dysfunction drugs, it can be helpful in the bedroom without any negative side effects when you naturally want to improve libido. (15a, 15b)
Nutmeg, Saffron and Clove: Spices are loaded with antioxidants, which is great for overall health, including libido. Research published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine specifically found that extracts of nutmeg and clove enhanced the sexual behavior of male animal subjects. (17) Clove is also great at improving bad breath (hint, hint). Saffron, on the other hand, may help to improve sexual dysfunction in females on antidepressants as well as men with erectile dysfunction. (18, 19)
Dark chocolate: Research has shown that chocolate consumption leads to the release of serotonin because of its tryptophan content, leading to some aphrodisiac and mood-lifting effects. (20, 21) Just make sure you choose a low-sugar, high-quality dark chocolate.
High-quality protein: Also high in tryptophan, protein-rich foods such as eggs, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry and grass-fed beef/lamb can help to increase serotonin and boost your mood (and libido). (23)
Maca root: Maca root, often referred to as “maca,” is an adaptogenic herb. Popular in traditional medicine practices as a sexual stimulant, maca consumption results in both increased sexual desire and decreased sexual dysfunction. (24) It may work in as little as two weeks to improve libido in healthy men — with the added bonus of a boost in exercise performance, which may definitely come in handy. (25) If you don’t live in an area where maca can be purchased in whole-food form, you can purchase it as a supplement at various online retailers.
Fenugreek: Available in herb and essential oil form, fenugreek helps to increase the desire for sex, particularly in males. Treatment with fenugreek can significantly improve libido and sexual pleasure ratings as well as regulate poor testosterone levels. (26) Fenugreek leaves smell somewhat bitter but are delicious once cooked.
Water: Making sure you’re not dehydrated is helpful when it comes to your libido since dehydration can cause a number of negative side effects that can easily dull sexual desire. If you want to avoid possible fatigue, headaches and vaginal dryness, then drink up.
Foods to Avoid for Healthy Libido
Processed foods: As processed foods have made up more and more of the Standard American Diet (SAD), obesity has been on the rise. Overall BMI of the American population has gone up at least 10–14 percent since 1971. (27) Since obesity is so closely tied with low libido, nix as much of the processed foods as you can from your diet and replace them with whole, less processed options.
Factory-farmed meats: While a lot of large-scale scientific evidence doesn’t exist due to the nature of the problem, many natural health practitioners (like myself) are concerned that the hormones used to treat non-organic, factory-farmed meats might interfere with normal hormone production. Avoid the processed stuff and opt for organic whenever you can to support a healthy libido.
Conventional dairy: Like factory-farmed meats, conventional dairy is considered to be healthy by many organizations. However, milk, cheese and other dairy products from cow’s milk can have synthetic hormones known as phthalic acid esters (PAEs) that have a negative effect on estrogen and testosterone levels. (29)
Sugar: Sugar, in general, negatively affects sex hormones. Studies have shown specific and concerning impacts on testosterone levels. In a 2013 study of male subjects, the consumption of glucose decreased blood levels of testosterone by an average of 25 percent, regardless of whether the men had diabetes, prediabetes or normal glucose tolerance. Testosterone levels also remained low hours after glucose consumption. (30)
Caffeine: This is a bit tricky, but it’s best not to overindulge on caffeine if you’re experiencing libido issues. During athletic performance, a small amount of caffeine can moderately increase testosterone, which may also indicate positive effects on sexual performance and drive. However, this increase may not actually be that helpful, because caffeine also increases cortisol levels, which has the potential to induce stress that further lowers libido. Coffee and teas can be great additions to a healthy life, but keep it under control and avoid caffeinated products at least six hours before bedtime.
Alcohol: Overdoing it on alcoholic beverages is known to decrease sexual desire, arousal and sensitivity. If you’re going to imbibe, opt for one glass (yes, just one) of polyphenol-rich red wine. The antioxidants in red wine can help widen blood vessels and increase blood flow to key arousal areas.
Microwaveable Popcorn: It may be convenient, but it’s certainly not healthy. The chemicals found in the lining of microwave popcorn bags (as well as nonstick pots and pans) have been linked to a lower sex drive for men. According to a 2009 study, these types of popcorn bags contain perfluoroalkyl acids, such as PFOA or PFOS, known to significantly lower sperm counts. (32)
How to Increase Libido with Supplements
Supplements for Low Libido in Men
Maca (500 milligrams three times daily): Research shows this adaptogen herb helps increase sexual desire. (24)
Velvet Bean (5 grams per day): The velvet bean or Mucuna pruriens plant helps to reduce stress, particularly in infertile men, and causes antioxidant activity to increase libido (and semen quality). (36)
Yohimbe (5.4 milligrams 1–3 times daily): Commonly used as a remedy for sexual dysfunction, the bark of the yohimbe tree may encourage relaxation of smooth muscles (to help counteract erectile dysfunction) and an improvement in sexual performance. (37) Human studies are limited, however.
Ginkgo biloba (200 milligrams daily): Men on antidepressants may benefit from ginkgo biloba supplementation throughout the four phases of sexual response: desire, excitement, orgasm and resolution. (38)
Supplements for Low Libido in Women
Panax Ginseng (1,000 milligrams once daily): This amount and duration of Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) has been shown to increase sexual desire in women going through menopause. (39)
Maca (500 milligrams three times daily): Research shows this adaptogen herb helps increase sexual desire in both men and women, particularly if low libido was induced by psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants. (40)
Iron (25–30 milligrams daily): If you have iron deficiency anemia, then supplementing with iron might help your libido. (41) Look for iron chelate, which is generally well-absorbed, and take it with a vitamin C source. Iron supplements can cause constipation — therefore, it’s important to confirm that your anemia is being caused by iron deficiency.
Gingko biloba (200 milligrams daily): Ginkgo biloba is particularly effective at treating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction in women, with a 91 percent success rate in one open clinical trial. (38)
How to Increase Libido with Essential Oils
Wondering how to increase libido with essential oils? There are various essential oils for libido that may help to increase sexual and mood arousal and act as natural aphrodisiacs.
If you’re a woman struggling with low libido due to menopause and issues with mood, clary sage oil might be a good option. It may help to improve the signs of depression and regulate cortisol levels, supporting more healthy libido. (45)
Also a powerhouse for menopausal women, neroli essential oil (used aromatically) “helps relieve menopausal symptoms, increase sexual desire, and reduce blood pressure in postmenopausal women. Neroli oil may have potential as an effective intervention to reduce stress and improve the endocrine system.” (46)
Fennel oil has positive estrogen-like effects that make it another female libido booster, both scientifically and historically. These effects, however, do not seem to negatively impact fertility or reproduction like some endocrine-disrupting chemicals. (47)
The oil from vitex (also referred to frequently as “chasteberry”) is another great option for reducing menopausal libido problems in women. (48) Not in menopause? This oil/supplement is an incredible addition to any female’s medicine cabinet — some of its more notable benefits include alleviation of PMS symptoms, increased fertility, clearing acne and promotion of lactation in breastfeeding moms.
Bonus Remedies for How to Increase Libido
Let’s talk about how to increase libido naturally with some easy lifestyle changes. Too little exercise can be a cause of low libido, but you also don’t want to overdo it either. Low libido is one of the risks of overtraining or “female athlete triad.” Exercises that increase human growth hormone, like weight training and burst training, can greatly improve blood flow to the genitals, mood and your own body perception. Also, try yoga, which can help combat fatigue and stress and reducing depression and anxiety. (49, 50)
If you smoke, here is yet another reason to stop smoking. To improve the fire in the bedroom, you need to put out the flame of your next cigarette. Smoking not only decreases sexual desire and satisfaction, but it also decreases fertility. According to one group of researchers, smokers reported having sex less than six times a month while nonsmoking men were having sex nearly twice as often. (51)
If body image or confidence is an issue, how to increase your libido means improving your self-esteem and sex drive by focusing on your attributes rather than your flaws. You should also find ways to reduce your stress levels and improve your length and quality of sleep.
To see how to increase libido by increasing your testosterone levels, check out my article: 9 Natural Testosterone Boosters for More Energy, Better Sleep + More.
Conventional Treatment for Low Libido
There can be a physical or psychological cause of low libido, or it could be both. Fifteen percent of men and up to 32 percent of women report lacking sexual interest for a period of several months throughout the previous year, which means this is clearly an important issue for a large number of people.
The two clinically diagnosable conditions for low libido are hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) and sexual aversion disorder (SAD). The latter of these is a more drastic problem, SAD being characterized as an “extreme aversion to and avoidance of” all sexual behavior. (52)
Many people do turn to conventional treatment when it comes to how to increase libido, so let’s see what some of the common low libido treatments are in the conventional medicine world.
For men, testosterone replacement therapy is a common conventional treatment, although it’s controversial. Some common options typically include sildenafil (VIAGRA®) and tadalafil (CIALIS®).
Many men might think that a prescription drug to induce erection is the simple answer. Now, this is very important to know, guys: These drugs do not boost your libido — they only help you to get and keep erections. A forced erection will not get to the root of your low or nonexistent sex drive, and these drugs are not without concerning side effects like memory problems, back pain, loss of hearing and many more. (53)
If a woman has a low libido and has already gone through menopause, vaginal estrogen creams are commonly recommended to treat vaginal dryness. Testosterone therapy in the form of pills or patches is also conventionally recommended for women. If a medical condition like a fibroid is causing sexual issues, it might likely be recommended that you surgically remove the fibroid(s). If your birth control pill is lowering your desire for sex, your doctor might prescribe a non-hormonal option.
Other conventional treatments for low libido in both men and women include a change in medication or the prescribing of antidepressants if depression is believed to be the cause. However, many antidepressants can lower sex drive. For both men and women, relationship counseling or sex therapy is sometimes recommended and helpful.
Precautions with Increasing Libido
If you experience a low libido and natural remedies don’t seem to help, it’s important to see your doctor sooner than later to make sure you don’t have a more serious underlying physical or psychological issue. It’s also important to know the side effects of any and all medications you currently take to make sure they’re not causing your low libido.
If you see a conventional doctor and seek advice on how to increase libido, hopefully he or she will suggest some healthy lifestyle choices. If you’re a man, you might likely receive a little blue pill, but you must know that this absolutely will not get to the real root of your low libido, whether physical, mental, emotional or all of the above.
Final Thoughts on How to Increase Libido
Low libido is a problem affecting a large portion of the population, although the embarrassing nature of it can make it a difficult topic to broach with your healthcare professional.
However, your diet affects your sex drive. There are foods that directly impact libido, either positively or negatively, and supplements/essential oils that can benefit those struggling to work up the desire for sexual intimacy.
Foods that increase libido include:
- Collagen-rich foods
- Nutmeg, saffron and clove
- Dark chocolate
- Brazil nuts
- High-quality protein
- Maca root
Foods to avoid for healthy libido include:
- Processed foods
- Factory-farmed meats
- High-sodium foods
- Conventional dairy
- Microwaveable popcorn
Libido supplements for men:
- Velvet bean
- Ginkgo biloba
Libido supplements for women:
- Panax ginseng
- Ginkgo biloba
Essential oils to increase libido:
- Jasmine oil
- Clary sage oil
- Neroli oil
- Fennel oil
- Vitex oil
Whatever changes you make, remember that medications that force a man to get an erection, though seemingly simple solutions, are not going to get to the root of libido problems. Even if you choose to try them for a time, I encourage you to alter your diet and lifestyle to support a healthy sex life instead of depending on chemical alterations.