A Woman's Guide to Reviving Sex Drive
As baby boomers age, more and more women report they've lost their sex drive. But experts say it may just be matter of knowing where to look.
Nature's Design for Sex continued...
"Estrogen is a mood elevator, it works in the brain to maintain interest in
sex, but it also works at the level of the genitals, helping to increase
sensation and just making sex more pleasurable," says Corio.
Without it, she says, not only can desire take a dive, vaginal tissue begins
to dry and shrink. As a result, intercourse can become uncomfortable, or even
painful. Problems with desire, say experts, are easy to understand.
"Who wants to make love when making love hurts?" asks Goldstein.
Moreover, he says, avoiding sex because of pain only leads to more pain. The
old "use or lose it" theory really does apply.
"From a strictly physical standpoint, the less sex you have the more painful
it is when you try to have it," he says.
Put the Sizzle in Sex
While estrogen levels are important, the latest research shows that the male
hormone testosterone also plays a role in a woman's sex drive. Though present
in only tiny amounts, some doctors say it's the seasoning that makes her sex
Moreover, when levels become erratic, as they do at midlife, that sizzle can
"There are a lot of physical reasons a woman can experience a decrease in
sexual desire. But for many women who are otherwise healthy, a drop in
testosterone that occurs at midlife is the reason," says Braunstein, who is one
of the nation's leading researchers on testosterone treatment in women.
Complicating matters further, studies show that sometimes the very
treatments women take to control midlife symptoms -- such as HRT or low-dose
birth control pills -- can actually disrupt
desire by robbing the body of testosterone.
"When these hormones are taken orally, they are metabolized by the liver,
which in turn puts out a protein that binds to testosterone, causing a
deficiency," says Braunstein. This, he says, can also be true for younger women
using birth control pills for contraception.
And while in younger women the answer may be to simply switch brands of
birth control pills, in women over 40, Braunstein says, adding tiny amounts of
testosterone back into the body is the solution.
But not everyone agrees. Goldstein says the jury is still out on whether it
really can help or even if it's safe. And the FDA advisory panel ruled that the
testosterone patch for women needed more safety data before approval is
Still, many doctors do prescribe testosterone "off label" -- frequently
turning to drugs like Estratest, a combination estrogen-testosterone
prescription approved for hot flashes and other
menopause symptoms. But if you're at all worried about taking estrogen, experts
say this is not the drug for you.
Finding Your Mojo Again
Admittedly, there are far more options for men seeking to rediscover their
libido than there are for women trying to find theirs. In fact, despite rumors
-- and even some early clinical evidence -- that Viagra can encourage both
genders to jump in the van and head for the all-night love fest, studies show
it had disappointing results in women.