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Libido

Our sex drive - or libido - varies throughout our lives. It can increase and decrease for no apparent reason, but can also be affected by illness, emotions and physical well-being.

Some of us want sex twice a day, others want it twice a month. Both a high and low libido are normal, and there's nothing wrong with either. And chances are, your libido will not be constant throughout your lifetime. In fact, it can vary dramatically, from hour to hour, day to day, season to season and age to age.

THE ROLE OF HORMONES
Many doctors believe that the hormone testosterone is directly linked with libido. Testosterone is mainly responsible for masculine sexual characteristics, but women produce testosterone too, though in much smaller amounts.

Some doctors will prescribe testosterone injections to men with low testosterone levels. Some will also give testosterone to women. But it has not been proven that higher levels of testosterone will increase or improve your sex drive. In fact, men with naturally low levels of this hormone still feel normal sexual desire.

FEMALE HORMONES
Oestrogen is the hormone that is responsible for female sexual characteristics. This hormone, too, is often said to be a factor in libido.

It's at its highest levels mid-cycle, when women are ovulating. While some women do report a strong interest in sex at this time, it seems that far more enjoy sex just before or just after their period, which does not coincide with high levels of any particular hormone.

After the menopause, when women have a lowered oestrogen level, they often complain of a loss of desire. Though oestrogen replacement is said to improve the libido, women who have had their ovaries removed - and therefore do not produce oestrogen - do not necessarily lose interest in sex. There's no doubt that hormones have an effect on our sex drive. But the connection is not as clear cut in humans as it is in animals. Many other complex factors will affect our levels of desire.

CYCLES OF DESIRE
Our sex drive goes up and down throughout our lifetime. Many of us feel more interested in sex when the sun starts shining - though men's testosterone levels are in fact higher in the winter.

Women are usually aware of a variation in their sex drive through the menstrual cycle. And some of us prefer sex in the morning, while others are more interested in the afternoon or at night.

Our libido also changes throughout our lifetime. The teenage years are when males experience the strongest libido - in the sense that they have most erections and ejaculations. But they may come to enjoy sex far more when they're older. Females are believed to experience the strongest libido in their late thirties and early forties. And there's no evidence to say that getting older involves a lowered libido.

LOSING INTEREST IN SEX
But all of us lose interest in sex at some time in life. The usual reasons are exhaustion, fatigue, stress (particularly Worry about work, money and housing), depression, an emotional upset, for instance a bereavement, poor self-image, and anxiety about sex itself.

Also, how you feel physically can affect your sex life both positively and negatively. Any number of physical illnesses, including diabetes and hypothyroidism, can reduce libido and so can certain drugs, such as medication for high blood pressure and sleeping pills.

ABOUT APHRODISIACS
An aphrodisiac is any substance that increases sexual desire. Since time immemorial, people have been searching for medications and substances that will improve the sex drive. The most common, alcohol, helps reduce inhibition. But it's also a depressant and too much can cause men to have difficulty in both getting and maintaining their erections, in spite of their arousal.

There have also been claims for the sexual powers of foods such as oysters and supplements like ginseng and vitamin E as well as Spanish fly - a substance that produces painful hard erections. Almost any of these may enhance the libido - if we believe in them.

THE BRAIN CONNECTION
Unlike that in animals, sexual desire in humans is separate from the hormonal cycle of reproduction. It has much more to do with our imagination and emotions.

If you've been with your partner for many years and find it hard to talk to each other, or if either of you have particular sexual needs that are going unsatisfied, the chances are you won't feel very interested in having sex. This is why it's possible to improve a flagging interest in sex by communicating more with your partner.

     
     

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