The popular assumption is that the male libido is constantly in overdrive, correct? Well, that’s not right — studies have shown that one out of five men has a low sex drive.
Men. High sex drive. Throbbing sexual beasts. We know what they want. And we know when they want it: right now. These are some of the thoughts that are unfair and often untrue assumptions about men.
Even some doctors are guilty of assuming men are just “sexual automatons,” always hardwired to want sex, according to pioneering sex researcher Irwin Goldstein, MD, and director of sexual medicine at San Diego’s Alvarado Hospital and editor in chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “But that is not the situation at all.” According to Goldstein “Many, many men — about one in five –have a sex drive that is so low they’d prefer do almost anything else than have sex.”
One in five men doesn’t want sex? How can that be true? And why haven’t we heard about it? Many women have heard this before — the ones hearing the phrase “Not tonight, dear.” Goldstein says the majority of people believe that is an uncommon occurrence. “But in actuality, nearly 30% of women say they have higher levels of interest in sex than their male partners has.”
The causes of low sex drive
There are several reasons for low sex drive. So what’ tends to be behind low sexual desire? Getting older plays a role, though many older men have a strong interest in sex, Goldstein points out. Like most other human characteristics, the sex drive fluctuates. Most men are in the average range; some are exceptionally driven toward addiction-like sexual behavior. At the other end of the scale are men with very low sexual interest. These are men who experience hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD).
“There are consistently men on both sides of the normal spectrum,” Goldstein says. “And a certain portion — perh
aps up to a quarter — will be considered to have HSDD for many different reasons.” These include:
Psychological issues. Stress and anxiety from the anxiety of daily life, relationship or family issue, depression, and mental disorders are a few of many factors that can affect sexual desire.
Medical Issues. Diseases such as diabetes; conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol; and HIV drugs, some hair-loss treatments, and other medications can discordantly affect sexual desire.
Hormonal triggers. “Testosterone is the hormone of desire, arguably for women as well as for men,” Goldstein says. Low testosterone levels generally indicate low sexual desire. Levels dip as men age; other causes cover chronic disease, medications, and other medical use. Other hormones can have an impact, too, such as low levels of thyroid hormone or, infrequently, high levels of prolactin, a hormone created in a gland at the base of the brain.
Low dopamine levels. Sexual desire clearly involves the brain — and the brain’s chemical messaging system is intimately linked to sexual desire. One of those messaging agents is dopamine. Doctors have noted that Parkinson’s disease patients treated with dopamine-stimulating drugs had enhanced sexual desire. Goldstein says these drugs help some men with HSDD.
Each cause of low sexual desire has a particular treatment plan to address it. When the cause is psychological, sex therapy can offer men specific techniques and strategies for recapturing their enjoyment of sex. “It is not psychotherapy; it is psychology counseling centered on sexual issues,” Goldstein explains.
In cases where the dilemma is low testosterone, men can use testosterone supplements if they have noticeably low levels. About 25% of men obtain weekly testosterone shots, Goldstein says, but most prefer to skin patches or gel formulations employed directly to the skin of the chest, shoulders, or abdomen.
When Goldstein speculates low dopamine levels are at the heart of a man’s low sexual desire, he might designate dopamine-increasing medications, though this treatment is not currently approved by the FDA and has risks.
However, a new medical now in clinical trials — for women — which does raise dopamine levels while decreasing a specific kind of serotonin in the brain. Early clinical research recommends the medications could help women with low sexual desire. Goldstein believes this new treatment has encouraging outlook. And if it’s approved for women, he says, it will likely be tested in men.
In the end, the choice for men who’ve lost their appetite for sex is not between being an insatiable sexual animal or being a eunuch. Rather, the real opportunity is whether these men are ready to regain a vital source of intimacy with their partners — and a vital part of a healthy life for themselves.