Drug companies have long tried to make a drug that can fire up a woman’s libido. So far, the FDA hasn't approved any drug for that purpose.
"There is no 'one size fits all' medication for sexual dysfunction," says Bat Sheva Marcus, PhD, clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in New York.
Still, there are effective treatments, and they don't all come in a bottle.
The first step is to find out what's going on.
What’s Causing the Problem?
When you're taking care of yourself physically and emotionally, and when you're in a good relationship, your sex drive is bound to be better than when you're not.
Some of the things that can dim women's sex drive include:
- Physical issues, including hormonal changes related to menopause or childbirth, or thyroid problems.
- Chronic stress, including in your relationship.
- Depression or other mental health issues.
- Some prescription drugs may also affect libido, including some types of antidepressants, birth control pills, anti-anxiety drugs, and blood pressure medications.
It's usually not just one thing. These issues can affect each other.
"If you have pain during sex, for instance, over time you may develop low sexual desire," says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Reviving Your Libido
Talk with your doctor or a counselor about what you're going through.
"For example, your primary care doctor may be able to address the physical aspects, but you may also benefit from relationship counseling or sex therapy," Millheiser says.
Your doctor should check your overall health, review any medications you're taking, and talk with you about what you're experiencing.
If your doctor seems uncomfortable or dismissive when you bring up your sexual problems, don't give up, Marcus says. "If possible, look for a gynecologist or a sex therapist who is knowledgeable about the physical, relationship-related, and emotional components of sexual dysfunction."
Those discussions are private.
If you need medication, doctors may consider prescribing:
- Estrogen skin creams, which can help if vaginal dryness makes sex painful. This typically happens when estrogen levels fall due to menopause or breastfeeding.Estrogen also comes in other forms, such as a tablet or skin patch.
- ED drugs. Doctors occasionally prescribe erectile dysfunction drugs to women who have difficulty becoming aroused or reaching orgasm. These drugs boost blood flow to the genitals. But they are not likely to help someone who has a lack of desire or who can't have an orgasm, Marcus says. Women who have been through menopause may need to take supplemental testosterone for an ED drug to be effective.
- Testosteroneand other androgens decline as women age. These hormones may play a role in sexual function in women just like they do in men. Inwomen with low libido just before, during, or after menopause, or in women who've had surgery to remove their ovaries, some experts suggest the use of testosterone treatment. However, there are side effects, and long-term safety studies of testosterone treatment for women are lacking.
- Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, may be prescribed to treat low sex drive in women who haven't been through menopause or if other antidepressants have affected their sex drive.
Every woman is different. It may take some experimenting to find what works for you.
What About Supplements?
Some supplements claim to boost women’s libido, but many lack scientific proof.
"Most of the salesmanship [for those products] is based on anecdotes and testimony," says Nanette Santoro, MD, chair of the obstetrics-gynecology department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colo. Her advice: Be skeptical if there isn't evidence from a clinical trial.
Millheiser warns that supplements that include an ingredient that acts like estrogen, such as red clover, might not be safe if you're at risk for, or have had, an estrogen-sensitive cancer like some breast cancers or ovarian cancer.
Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any side effects.