Go to a movie or flip on the television and it’s easy to think that everyone but you has a libido in overdrive. But in the real world, our lives aren’t often very sex-friendly. Most Americans are besieged by stress, work and myriad opportunities for instant gratification — none of which lend themselves to long, leisurely hours of lovemaking.
Remember the freedom we felt in our late teens and early 20s? One of my patients, in remembering these halcyon times, says, “Back then, it seemed like life was an endless summer, wide open with possibility.” As we age, however, we confront the unceasing demands of work, family and a relationship, and it can be difficult to find the freedom and the energy that once fueled our desire.
Most of the patients who come to me with libido issues — and in my more than 30 years as a practitioner, I’ve seen a steadily increasing number of them — are women who range in age from their 30s to their 60s. And, in general, they are simply too wiped out by life’s burdens to even think about, much less feel, their sexual and sensual desires.
The majority of my younger patients are there because they want to know how they can get their libidos back, but I am astonished by the number of 50-year-olds who walk into my office and say that they haven’t had any sexual activity for four years — and they’re OK with it!
This is unfortunate, because revving up your libido isn’t just about sex. Yes, libido is about sexual desire, but it’s also about a vitality, life force and energy that are critical to your overall health and well-being — whether you are 35 or 55 or even 75.
A healthy libido has huge implications, both on a physical level (it helps decrease blood pressure, support a healthier immune system, increase dopamine levels, etc.) and on an emotional level (it instills a sense of empowered calm and a feeling of spark, and it promotes connection and intimacy in relationships, etc.).
Cultivating a healthy sex drive — just like following a nutritious diet or a strenuous workout — takes some focused effort. But the payoff extends far beyond the bedroom.
Although our popular culture seems sexually obsessed, when it comes to discussing the subject of sexual satisfaction in our own lives, we can turn surprisingly shy, or even puritanical. Most of us rarely talk about libido — at least, not in very authentic or respectful terms — but given its importance to our well-being, I think it’s high time we start.
No matter where you are in a relationship, giving yourself permission to be a vital, sensual, fully engaged person is a great way to feel in the prime of life at any time of life.
Sound good? Here are some tips to get you started:
Look Into Physical Issues
Many of the causes of impaired libido are physical. Hormonal imbalance, for example, is a major reason why our sexual desire flags. I write in detail about this in my book Are You Tired and Wired? (Hay House, 2011). At my clinic, I complete a full hormonal profile of all my patients, looking at their levels of sex hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and DHEA. I also screen them for adrenal fatigue, which can drain sexual desire.
Because so many of us these days are stressed out and exhausted, we produce a great deal of the stress hormone cortisol, enough that it can throw our sex hormones totally out of whack. (For more on adrenal fatigue, search for “Pick Yourself Up.”)
That’s why the more stressed out you are, the more important it becomes to support your body’s overall health with fulfilling activity, nutritious food and calming meditation. This will help you sustain the basic stamina necessary both to experience sexual desire and to be sexually active. I’ve had many patients report an amazing improvement in their flagging energy levels and libidos after simply starting a high-quality multivitamin-and-mineral complex, for example.
It’s important to remember, however, that it’s never just about the physical. Cultivating your libido is like conducting an orchestra — a whole array of interconnected parts have to be working together. And, although we’ve been trained to associate sex with purely physical concerns, the more intangible parts of the sexual equation — your psychological and emotional sexual states — also deserve your attention.
Make the Mind-Body Link
Learning to love yourself unconditionally is central to rekindling desire, and loving your body starts in your own head and heart. When it comes to sexual arousal and desire, the mind, and specifically the limbic system (which has been described as the emotional seat of the brain), is the single most influential organ, the one that can spark desire long before any of our body parts touch. In effect, desire begins with, and is kindled by, our state of mind.
How many times have you met someone who on the surface isn’t conventionally attractive, but whose personality makes him or her irresistible? This attractiveness is often rooted in a strong sense of self-confidence and self-respect. It may sound like a cliché — you have to love yourself before someone else can — but so many people, especially women, have trouble understanding this essential truth, and as a result, they have a great deal of difficulty connecting with themselves in a loving way.
Because desire is a function of how desirable you feel, you may need to redirect your mind each time the negativity script starts to play. It may not be easy to shift to a place where you can hear and accept compliments and affirmations from yourself and others. Any woman who has struggled with her self-esteem and appearance can tell you that. And you may need some professional guidance. Many of my patients have successfully revised their inner monologues with one-on-one counseling or other therapeutic tools. In order to rekindle your desire, you must claim it in your own mind. So grant yourself permission to be a creative, fully expressed sexual creature and recognize how truly unique and desirable you are.
De-Stress to Rekindle
We all know that women face a host of stressors as they age. Many are dealing with children, newly empty nests, divorce or other stressful relationships. Their parents, too, grow older and may require caretaking. At the same time, many women are working full-time in professional and volunteer capacities, and are often taking care of the home as well. Not only do these many demands divert your body’s resources into making stress hormones instead of sex hormones, they leave little room for mind and body to indulge in creative thoughts and activities that cultivate desire.
And that’s a problem, because creativity and sensuality go hand in hand. Remember as a teenager, lying around, listening to music or mooning over the local heartthrob and writing in your diary? What may in retrospect seem like a frivolous waste of time served a useful purpose. It gave you a chance to tune in to your fantasy world, to learn what you liked. It helped to prime your psyche to accept love and passion when they happened along.
One sure way to bring sexual excitement back into your life is to allow time for it. This is so much easier if you can reduce your stress levels. How many people find their sexual desire increases when they go away on vacation? It’s no mystery; it’s about giving your body, mind and spirit the room to relax and have fun.
You may need to establish better boundaries — to change your routine and include some uninterrupted downtime — to help rekindle your sexual nature. It may mean carving out time for creative pursuits that literally “turn you on.” I’ve had patients who, upon traveling or taking up some other passion they’ve sequestered for years, find themselves feeling young again, energetic and — yes — sexy!
No matter how old you are, your desire will always be connected to that teenager daydreaming on the bed. All you need to bloom is support, time and, of course, the right partner. Which brings me to communication and its long-term bedfellow: intimacy.
Talk With Your Partner About What Makes You Happy
I have seen a great many troubled relationships and marriages dramatically improve when couples spend time exploring what turns a woman on. You might wonder why we’ve been focusing more on cultivating libido in women so far. It’s really quite simple: I mean no offense, but, in my experience, many men are more easily aroused than most women, whose desire requires a bit more thoughtful nurturing.
It’s actually one of the biggest problems in relationships: Men will see a magazine centerfold, for example, and immediately get turned on. Most women don’t quite work that way.
For a woman, foreplay begins in the morning when her partner says, “Honey, I’m going to take out the garbage” or, “What can I get for dinner tonight?” Really communicating — and listening — is what turns women’s libidos on and breeds connection and intimacy.
Of course, a woman may notice a hot guy and become somewhat aroused, but in terms of long-term sexual sustainability, it’s about a partner doing things like putting the kids to bed, offering a neck rub or fixing a cup of tea. As men age and their testosterone levels fall, these gestures are more important to cultivating their libidos as well. (Men with reduced libidos may need their hormones tested, too, particularly since those hormones affect overall health as well as libido.)
So, go easy on yourself and your partner, and focus on connection and creating intimacy first, then desire. Both women and men need this in the relationship. After all, if you are having emotional difficulties in your relationship, it will influence your physical relations, and as a result, your desire will wane. Knowing what you each need and asking for it are key to an intimate relationship.
Make a date and spend time simply talking to each other. Just asking, “How was your day?” can spark a much-needed conversation. Try playing a sport together or, even better, learn a new skill together. Sometimes seeing a partner in a new setting can work wonders for your libido.
Embrace Sensuality — Not Sexuality
Many years ago, an 80-year-old widow came into my office and whispered, “Is it OK to do it?” I asked her what she meant. She responded, “Is it OK to do it every day? I’m in a new relationship and if I knew then what I know now, I would have dumped my first husband on the floor. I never knew it could be so good!”
It’s a funny story, but it reveals a larger truth: Our culture is simply squeamish when it comes to talking about what goes on in the bedroom. Most everyone has sex at some point, but in this country, we are a bit repressed when it comes to talking about it. Because of that deep denial, our sexuality comes out in strange ways — via catcalls on the street or porn addiction or round-the-clock media coverage about who’s had an affair with whom.
Sex is simply a natural part of being alive, but Americans are less comfortable talking about it than, say, Europeans. My mother is Dutch and my father is Hungarian, so I grew up understanding the European mindset very well. The major difference? Europeans are focused on sensuality — being at home in your body and being comfortable with its physical needs. Here in the United States, it often seems we’re bluntly hyperfocused on sexuality, as in, “Come on, baby, let’s do it!”
Learning how to be in your body in a very sensual way leads to empowerment. It’s not about “I want to turn somebody on.” It’s about “I’m feeling tuned in to my body and I’m wanting to do and enjoy things that make me feel sexy just for me.” Those things might include wearing a certain lotion, scent or lingerie; lighting candles; bathing; listening to music; reading erotica; engaging in self-stimulation; literally, whatever turns you on. The point is, you decide — not someone else.
Also, on a physical level, keep in mind that, if you are involved in a long-term relationship, you may both be habituated to a kind of timing or foreplay — or lack thereof — that is no longer stimulating for one or both of you. So try to do some exploring together to find out what needs to change. (See “Recommended Reading,” below, to help you get started.) If this seems too daunting, it may help to consult with a certified sex therapist or another counselor.
Learning to want and love sex again is actually fairly straightforward — it’s about learning to take better care of your body by tuning in to its requests for support. It’s also about letting go of your perceived limitations and welcoming a whole new range of possibilities. So, go forward, be open, and embrace your new sexual self!
To get you in the mood, you may want to check out a few good books on the subject. Here are some of my favorites:
- For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality (Anchor, 1975), by Lonnie Garfield Barbach, PhD
- For Each Other: Sharing Sexual Intimacy (Signet, 2001), by Lonnie Garfield Barbach, PhD
- Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman: Ten Keys to Unlocking Ultimate Pleasure (Hyperion, 2006), by Laura and Jennifer Berman