In Reddit’s highly trafficked sex section, users aren’t shy about sharing their opinions—many of which aren’t especially helpful. That was the case when, earlier this month, a 22-year-old woman posted about her low-sex-drive woes, lamenting that she doesn’t want to do it with her long-term boyfriend more than once every couple of weeks, while he wants it “crazy often, like three times a week.”
Unsurprisingly, she got plenty of flack from people, who responded with gems like, “Three times a week is crazy often? I’d be sex starved,” and “I couldn’t see myself staying in that relationship.” More helpful responders asked about factors like medication and mood changes. It got us wondering about the common assumption that people generally have a higher sex drive when they’re young—and whether there’s really any truth to it.
Not really, says gynecologist Jacquelyn Stone, MD, of the digital women’s health clinic Maven. “There’s a notion that men reach their sexual peak around 18 and women a little later, but in general, most people can be very interested in sex for most of their life,” she says. That is, if nothing gets in the way. If you experience a noticeable change in your sex drive or your disinterest in sex is becoming an issue in your relationship—which, Stone says, isn’t the case for everyone—there are several possible causes.
First, examine how things are between the two of you outside the bedroom, suggests couples therapist Hilary Silver. “Are you emotionally connected and enjoying each other? Are you communicating well? The biggest desire killer is resentment, which is toxic and makes us think negatively of our lover.” Stone adds that feeling emotionally close is especially important for women because those feelings are a prerequisite for many of us to want physical intimacy, whereas men often use sex as a way to develop that emotional intimacy.
Sometimes it’s not a matter of major fighting or huge emotional rifts, but rather, being in a bit of a rut. “After the initial infatuation stage wears off and couples fall into a comfortable routine, the average number of times per week is 1.7,” says Silver. And many people are perfectly happy with that. The trouble is, if you’re not having as much sex as you (or your partner) would like to be, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: “The longer people go without sex, the easier it is to keep going without it, and that is trouble,” says Silver.
Talking about it can help take some of the pressure off both of you. “We all feel rejected when our partners don’t want sex,” says Silver. “We feel unloved and undesirable, and the partner is also suffering, because in our culture, if you don’t want sex, something is wrong with you, and there’s a lot of shame and worry.” She recommends approaching the conversation lovingly, without harshness, blame, or accusations, to help you get on the same page.
If, on the other hand, all is well in your relashe, other physiological factors could be at play. If you’re super-stressed about your job, money, or family, that can bleed into the bedroom, becoming a between-the-sheets buzzkill. It’s hard to stay focused on what your BF is doing between your legs when your mind is busy trying to read between the lines of your boss’s passive-aggressive email.
If none of these seem like they could be at the root of your blah sex life, it might be time to look at purely physical stuff: “There are some medications that cause low libido,” says Stone. “Oral contraceptives and NuvaRing are at the top of that list because they decrease hormones that affect your libido.” She suggests considering trying an IUD or contraceptive implant if you think the pill might be at fault—after all, why are you taking birth control every day if it’s making you barely even want to have sex? “If nothing in your life has changed, it’s time to see a doctor and have blood work done to check for other medical causes,” says Stone.
In the meantime, assuming there’s no physical pain or major emotional distress during sex, sometimes you might just want to go for it and see if sex begets more sex. “Having sex can be like going to the gym—you may not initially want to, but once you do, it feels pretty good, and when it’s over, you’re so glad you did it because you feel great,” says Stone. True that.