"Sex drive" redirects here. For other uses, see Sex drive (disambiguation). For other uses, see Libido (disambiguation).

Libido refers to a person's sex drive or desire for sexual activity. The desire for sex is an aspect of a person's sexuality, but varies enormously from one person to another, and it also varies depending on circumstances at a particular time. A person who has extremely frequent or a suddenly increased sex drive may be experiencing hypersexuality. Sex drive has usually biological, psychological, and social components. Biologically, levels of hormones such as testosterone are believed to affect sex drive; social factors, such as work and family, also have an impact; as do internal psychological factors, like personality and stress. There is no measure of what is a healthy level for sex. Sex drive may be affected by medical conditions, medications, lifestyle and relationship issues.

There is no necessary correlation between the desire for sex and actual sexual activity. For example, a person may have a desire for sex but not have the opportunity to act on that desire, or may on personal, moral or religious reasons refrain from acting on the urge. Psychologically, a person's urge can be repressed or sublimated. On the other hand, a person can engage in sexual activity without an actual desire for it.

The concept of libido was first introduced by Sigmund Freud as the instinct energy or force, contained in what Freud called the id. Carl Jung defined libido as the free creative or psychic energy an individual has to put toward personal development or individuation. Within the category of sexual behavior, libido would fall under the appetitive phase wherein an individual will usually undergo certain behaviors in order to gain access to a mate.[1]


Sexual desire disorders

There is no measure of what is a healthy level for sex desire. Some people want to have sex every day, or more than once a day; others once a year or not at all. However, a person who lacks a desire for sexual activity for some period of time may be experiencing a hypoactive sexual desire disorder or may be asexual. A sexual desire disorder is more common in women, but rare in men. Erectile dysfunction is more common in men and may be a cause for the lack of sexual desire, but with which it should not be confused.[2] Moreover, specialists have brought to attention that libido impairment may not even occur in cases of men with erectile dysfunction.[citation needed] However, men can also experience a decrease in their libido as they age.

The American Medical Association has estimated that several million US women suffer from a female sexual arousal disorder, though arousal is not at all synonymous with desire, so this finding is of limited relevance to the discussion of libido.[2] Some specialists claim that women may experience low libido due to some hormonal abnormalities such as lack of luteinising hormone or androgenic hormones, although these theories are still controversial. Also, women commonly lack sexual desire in the period immediately after giving birth. Moreover, any condition affecting the genital area can make women reject the idea of having intercourse. It has been estimated that half of women experience different health problems in the area of the vagina and vulva, such as thinning, tightening, dryness or atrophy. Frustration may appear as a result of these issues and because many of them lead to painful sexual intercourse, many women prefer not having sex at all. Surgery or major health conditions such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease or infertility may have the same effect in women.[3] Common surgeries that affect the hormonal levels in women include hysterectomies.

Factors affecting libido

Relational issues

The desire for sex is an important motivator for the formation and maintenance of intimate relationships in both men and women, and a lack or loss of sexual desire can have an adverse impact on a relationship. Unresolved relationship problems, such as a lack or loss of sexual desire for the partner, may cause a decrease in sexual desire, which may itself cause problems in the relationship. Infidelity may be an indication of a general desire for sex, though not with the primary partner. Problems can arise from the loss of sexual desire in general or for the partner or a lack of connection with the partner, or poor communication of sexual needs and preferences.[3]

Psychological factors

Psychological factors can reduce the desire for sex. These factors can include lack of privacy and/or intimacy, stress or fatigue, distraction or depression. Environmental stress, such as prolonged exposure to elevated sound levels or bright light, can also affect libido. Other causes include experience of sexual abuse, assault, trauma, or neglect, body image issues and sexual performance anxiety.[4]

Some people have suggested that contraception may influence the desire for sex by women, by decreasing the anxiety level from an unexpected pregnancy.[citation needed]

Latent homosexuality may also be a cause for lack of libido in men. [5]

Physical factors

Physical factors that can affect libido include: endocrine issues such as hypothyroidism, levels of available testosterone in the bloodstream of both women and men, the effect of certain prescription medications (for example flutamide), various lifestyle factors and the attractiveness and biological fitness of one's partner.[6] Inborn lack of sexual desire, often observed in asexual people, can also be considered a physical factor. Hyperprolactinaemia or any major disease such as cancer, diabetes or depression can reduce sexual desire in men.[citation needed]


Being very underweight or malnourished can cause a low libido due to disruptions in normal hormonal levels. There is also evidence to support that specific foods have an effect on libido.[7][8]

Anemia is particularly a cause of lack of libido in women due to the loss of iron during the period.[2]

Smoking, alcohol abuse and drug abuse may also cause disruptions in the hormonal balances and therefore leads to a decreased libido. However, specialists suggest that several lifestyle changes such as drinking milk, exercising, quitting smoking, lower consumption of alcohol or using prescription drugs may help increasing one's sexual desire. Moreover, learning stress management techniques can be helpful for individuals who experience libido impairment due to a stressful life.

Aphrodisiacs are known to increase individuals' libido due to either their chemical composition or their consistency.[9]


Reduced libido is also often iatrogenic and can be caused by many medications, such as hormonal contraception, SSRIs and other antidepressants, antipsychotics, opioids and beta blockers. In some cases iatrogenic impotence or other sexual dysfunction can be permanent, as in post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD).

Testosterone is one of the hormones controlling libido in human beings. Emerging research[10] is showing that hormonal contraception methods like "the pill" (which rely on estrogen and progesterone together) are causing low libido in females by elevating levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds to sex hormones, including testosterone, rendering them unavailable. Research is showing that even after ending a hormonal contraceptive method, SHBG levels remain elevated and no reliable data exists to predict when this phenomenon will diminish.[11] Some[who?] question whether "the pill" and other hormonal methods (Depo-Provera, Norplant, etc.) have permanently altered gene expression by epigenetic mechanisms.

Testosterone and menstrual cycle

A woman's desire for sex is correlated to her menstrual cycle, with many women experiencing a heightened sexual desire in the several days immediately before ovulation.[12]

This cycle has been associated with changes in a woman's testosterone levels during the menstrual cycle. According to Gabrielle Lichterman, testosterone levels have a direct impact on a woman's interest in sex. According to her, testosterone levels rise gradually from about the 24th day of a woman's menstrual cycle until ovulation on about the 14th day of the next cycle, and during this period the woman's desire for sex increase consistently. The 13th day is generally the day with the highest testosterone levels. In the week following ovulation, the testosterone level is the lowest and as a result women will experience less interest in sex.[13]

Also, during the week following ovulation, progesterone levels increase, resulting in a woman experiencing difficulty achieving orgasm. Although the last days of the menstrual cycle are marked by a constant testosterone level, women's libido may boost as a result of the thickening of the uterine lining which stimulates nerve endings and makes a woman feel aroused.[14] Also, during these days, estrogen levels also decline, resulting in a decrease of natural lubrication.

Although some specialists disagree with this theory, menopause is still considered by the majority a factor that can cause decreased sex desire in women. The levels of estrogen decrease at menopause and this usually causes a lower interest in sex and vaginal dryness which makes intercourse painful. Also, the levels of testosterone increase at menopause and this is why some women may experience a contrary effect, of an increased libido.

History of the concept

Sigmund Freud popularized the term[Need quotation to verify] and defined libido as the instinct energy or force, contained in what Freud called the id, the largely unconscious structure of the psyche. Building on the work of Karl Abraham, Freud developed the idea of a series of developmental phases in which the libido fixates on different erogenous zones—first in the oral stage (exemplified by an infant's pleasure in nursing), then in the anal stage (exemplified by a toddler's pleasure in controlling his or her bowels), then in the phallic stage, through a latency stage in which the libido is dormant, to its reemergence at puberty in the genital stage.[15] Freud pointed out that these libidinal drives can conflict with the conventions of civilized behavior, represented in the psyche by the superego. It is this need to conform to society and control the libido that leads to tension and disturbance in the individual, prompting the use of ego defenses to dissipate the psychic energy of these unmet and mostly unconscious needs into other forms. Excessive use of ego defenses results in neurosis. A primary goal of psychoanalysis is to bring the drives of the id into consciousness, allowing them to be met directly and thus reducing the patient's reliance on ego defenses.[16]

Freud viewed libido as passing through a series of developmental stages within the individual. Failure to adequately adapt to the demands of these different stages could result in libidinal energy becoming 'dammed up' or fixated in these stages, producing certain pathological character traits in adulthood. Thus the psychopathologized individual for Freud was an immature individual, and the goal of psychoanalysis was to bring these fixations to conscious awareness so that the libido energy would be freed up and available for conscious use in some sort of constructive sublimation.

According to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, the libido is identified as psychic energy. Duality (opposition) that creates the energy (or libido) of the psyche, which Jung asserts expresses itself only through symbols: "It is the energy that manifests itself in the life process and is perceived subjectively as striving and desire." (Ellenberger, 697)

Defined more narrowly, libido also refers to an individual's urge to engage in sexual activity. In this sense, the antonym of libido is destrudo.[citation needed]

More recently, philosopher and psychologist James Giles has argued that human sexual desire is neither a biological instinct nor something learned or constructed by culture. According to Giles' theory of sexual desire it is an existential need based on the awareness of having a gender. Having a gender creates a sense of incompleteness. We then seek to fill this incompleteness through the baring and caressing of the desired gender.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Nelson, Randy J. An Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology (2005). Sunderland: Sinauer Associates. ISBN 0-87893-617-3
  2. ^ a b c "Lack of sex drive in men (lack of libido)". Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "Low sex drive in women". Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  4. ^ Yalom, I.D., Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1989. ISBN 006097334X.
  5. ^ "Lack of Sex Drive in Men". Retrieved June 24, 2011. 
  6. ^ Psychology Today – The orgasm Wars
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Natural Aphrodisiacs". Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  10. ^ Warnock JK, Clayton A, Croft H, Segraves R, Biggs FC. Comparison of androgens in women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder: those on combined oral contraceptives (COCs) vs. those not on COCs. J Sex Med 2006;3:878–882. PubMed.
  11. ^ Panzer C, Wise S, Fantini G, Kang D, Munarriz R, Guay A, Goldstein I. Impact of oral contraceptives on sex hormone-binding globulin and androgen levels: a retrospective study in women with sexual dysfunction. J Sex Med 2006;3:104–113. PubMed.
  12. ^ Susan B. Bullivant, Sarah A. Sellergren, Kathleen Stern, et al. (February 2004). "Women's sexual experience during the menstrual cycle: identification of the sexual phase by noninvasive measurement of luteinizing hormone". Journal of Sex Research 41 (1): 82–93 (in online article, see pp.14–15,18–22). doi:10.1080/00224490409552216. PMID 15216427. 
  13. ^ 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential, Gabrielle Lichterman, ISBN 978-1593373450
  14. ^ "Women Can Now Predict When They Will Have The Best Sex". Retrieved July 28, 2010. 
  15. ^ author = "New World Encyclopedia", title = "Libido --- New World Encyclopedia", year = "2008", url = "", note = "[Online; accessed 12-December-2010]"
  16. ^ Reber, Arthur S.; Reber, Emily S. (2001). Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Penguin Reference. ISBN 0-140-51451-1. 
  17. ^ James Giles, The Nature of Sexual Desire, University Press of America, 2008

Further reading

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • LIBIDO — «Libido (grec, epithumia ). Das Verlangen nach Etwas [l’envie de quelque chose]. Die Begierde [le désir]; die Wollust [la luxure]. Geilheit [le rut]. Cf. latin, libet , lubet : es gefällt [il convient], Behagt [il plaît]. Sedes libidinis =… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • libido — LÍBIDO s.n. (med.) Dorinţa de satisfacere a instinctului sexual. – Din lat., fr. libido. Trimis de gudovan, 26.04.2004. Sursa: DEX 98  LÍBIDO s. (PSIHANALIZĂ) eros. Trimis de siveco, 05.08.2004. Sursa: Sinonime  líbido s. n., ar …   Dicționar Român

  • Libido — Sf sexuelle Energie per. Wortschatz fach. (20. Jh.) Entlehnung. Von S. Freud gebraucht nach l. libīdo Lust , einer Ableitung von l. libet es beliebt . Adjektiv: libidinös.    Ebenso ne. libido, nfrz. libido, nndl. libido, nschw. libido, nnorw.… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Libido. — Libido.   Nach S. Freud (Psychoanalyse) liegt die Libido als sexuelle Triebkraft allen Lebensäußerungen zugrunde, die auf Lustgewinn gerichtet sind. Sie kann auf die eigene Person (Ich Libido) oder auf ein äußeres Objekt (Objekt Libido;… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • líbido — impulso o deseo sexual. Diccionario ilustrado de Términos Médicos.. Alvaro Galiano. 2010. libido 1. energía psíquica o conducta instintiva asociada con el placer, creatividad o deseo …   Diccionario médico

  • libido — ‘Deseo sexual’: «A mí el vino me sube la libido» (Bayly Días [Perú 1996]). Es voz llana: [libído]. No es correcta la forma esdrújula ⊕ líbido, debida al influjo del adjetivo lívido (‘amoratado’ o ‘pálido’; → lívido), con el que no debe… …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • Libido TV — Création 1er mars 2011 Slogan « La petite chaîne qui démonte » Langue Français Pays …   Wikipédia en Français

  • LIBIDO — plerarumque haeresium esca, ut videre est hîc passim, inprimis ubi de Fem. Comm. Idem apud Idololatras omnis aevi obtinuit, quorum nonnullis etiam inter sacros suae impietatis ritus meretricatus et scortatio fuit, uti passim itidem diximus. Et… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • libido — psychic drive or energy, usually associated with sexual instinct, 1892, carried over untranslated in English edition of Krafft Ebing s Psychopathia Sexualis ; and used in 1909 in A.A. Brill s translation of Freud s Selected Papers on Hysteria… …   Etymology dictionary

  • libido — s. f. 1. Desejo sexual. 2. Luxúria. 3.  [Psicanálise] Energia fundamental do ser vivo que se manifesta pela sexualidade. (Freud faz dela a expressão do «instinto de viver» [eros], e opõe na ao «instinto da morte» [desejo de autodestruição].)… …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • libido — lìbido m DEFINICIJA psihofizičke manifestacije u vezi sa spolnim nagonom, spolni žar, spolna požuda ETIMOLOGIJA lat. libido ≃ libēre: goditi; libidinosus: požudan …   Hrvatski jezični portal