Nov. 7, 2001 -- Which sexual problem do men find hardest to discuss? Well, it's not premature ejaculation, which the Journal of the American Medical Association cites as the most common sexual dysfunction. And it's certainly not erectile dysfunction, which even a former presidential candidate has discussed in detail on national television. No, the answer is low sex drive, or low "mojo," as Austin Powers would put it.
What defines a low libido for an individual is subjective and depends upon many variables, says Richard Kogan, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice who specializes in the treatment of sexual dysfunction in New York City. Physical and mental health are key factors, and although many men are happy exceptions to the trend, sex drive generally decreases with age.
Among Bill Clinton's post-White House ventures, one of the more striking is his campaign to reverse trends in childhood obesity. It's been remarkable for its ambition, and for the scope of its potential benefits. But perhaps most of all, it's been remarkable to see someone of Clinton's typically diet-oblivious gender speak publicly about laying off the cheeseburgers.
"Impotence and loss of libido are two very separate things," says Richard Milsten, MD, a New Jersey-based urologist and co-author of The Sexual Male. However, men who experience impotence commonly experience a decrease in libido over time, he adds. When libido drops and impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is not a problem, there are numerous factors a doctor might suspect as the cause.
When You're Sick, Libido Suffers
Any medical problem or chronic physical condition can reduce a man's sex drive. If a man is diagnosed with cancer, sex may be the furthest thing from his mind for a time. But even minor illnesses can diminish a man's sexual interest. Conversely, when men improve their health -- through exercise, a low-fat diet, or, if necessary, medical treatment -- their libido is likely to increase.
While any illness can decrease sex drive, some conditions, such as thyroid disease, tumors of the pituitary gland (which controls most hormone production, including sex hormones), and depression, are directly linked to low libido, according to Milsten. Similarly, insufficient amounts of the male sex hormone testosterone may cause low libido, though such a condition is unlikely to affect erectile function. Kogan advises men who feel their physical condition has decreased their sex drive to consult a physician, keeping in mind that loss of libido is sometimes the only recognizable symptom of a medical problem.