What switches our sex drive on and off?

accreditation
iStock

Sexual desire can change from moment to moment. One minute you’re feeling frisky, and the next you just feel like a cup of tea and a nap.

Even though sexual desire is exciting and pretty important in terms of how we ended up here, research on when and why we experience sexual desire is limited.

Our research seeks to shed some light on the nature of sexual desire; how it differs between people and within the same person.

Do men have a stronger sex drive?

Are men hot-blooded, sex-driven creatures that think about sex every seven seconds? Not quite. Men do think about sex more than women (34 times compared to 19 times a day – so about every 1,700 seconds), but men also think about food and sleep more than women. So, men are needs-driven creatures, not sex-driven as such.

It should also be noted that women are far from sexless creatures, and around 20 separate sexual thoughts per day is well over one per waking hour.

Do we desire sex less as we age?

Age is another thing we might think has a big effect on sexual desire. A study of adults aged 18–59 found as we get older we are more prone to sexual dysfunctions. For example, older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and older women are more likely to experience difficulty lubricating, which can lead to vaginismus (pain during sex).

However, ageing is not necessarily associated with a decrease in sexual desire. Two national surveys of Finnish adults aged 18–74 and 18–81 found once a number of other factors were accounted for, including sexual functioning, attitudes towards sex, and relationship closeness, ageing had no effect on sexual desire.

Ageing was, however, related to having sex less often, even after controlling for these factors. So perhaps older people feel just as frisky as they did when they were in their 20s, but, for whatever reason, they are less likely to engage in sex.

Does a high sex drive mean better sex?

Sexual desire, unsurprisingly, is important for our relationship and sexual satisfaction. In one study focusing on couples, they found the more people experienced sexual desire throughout the day, the better their sex lives.

The important point here is that we shouldn’t “switch off” sexually during the day – a healthy fantasy life that boosts our desire outside the bedroom could lead to a better time once the bedroom door is closed and the action begins.

Feeling like sex versus feeling like a nap

When it comes to what factors control sexual desire, hormones are important to consider. For men, as levels of testosterone increase, sexual desire is also likely to rise. For women, however, the effect of testosterone and other hormones on desire is less clear.

There is some evidence women’s sexual desire changes at different stages of their ovulatory cycle. One study found that as levels of testosterone increased (mostly during the time around ovulation: days 12–15), women engaged in more sexual activity.

This association was stronger among women not in a relationship compared to women with a partner. Hence, women’s hormones do appear to play some role in controlling sexual desire, and this effect may be especially strong among single women.

A common belief is that the contraceptive pill diminishes women’s libido. However, a review of existing research found no consistent effect of the pill on women’s libido; most women experienced no change in libido as a result of taking the pill, some experienced a slight increase, and others a slight decrease.

But what about psychological and environmental factors? Does desire change depending on who we’re with? Does it change depending on how we feel about our bodies, or stress, or alcohol consumption? These questions are yet to be tested, so at present, the impact of daily life on sexual arousal remains largely a mystery.


If you would like to find out when and why your sexual desire changes, please click here to participate in our study.

Read more:

Boost your sex drive naturally

'Spicing' up your love life possible

Top 10 reasons for low libido

Emily Harris, PhD Candidate in the School of Psychology, The University of Queensland; Fiona Barlow, , Griffith University, and Matthew Hornsey, Professor, School of Psychology, University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Save
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
33% - 2815 votes
The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
15% - 1255 votes
The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
52% - 4460 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
17.09
-0.4%
Rand - Pound
20.66
+0.0%
Rand - Euro
17.80
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.54
+0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.12
-0.0%
Gold
1,754.60
0.0%
Silver
21.61
0.0%
Palladium
1,856.61
0.0%
Platinum
984.00
0.0%
Brent Crude
83.63
-2.0%
Top 40
66,754
-0.0%
All Share
73,151
+0.0%
Resource 10
71,441
-0.1%
Industrial 25
87,347
-0.2%
Financial 15
16,370
+0.4%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE