- Sex can be a fulfilling act, but it doesn't come easily to everyone.
- You know that being tired, suffering from stress or feeling a bit fat can put you off getting frisky.
- But did you realise your shoes, the movie you watched this evening or what you had to drink could also dampen your desire?
- Here are 12 sex-drive sappers you might not know about.
1 - GOING TEETOTAL
Women who drink one or two glasses of red wine a day are more interested in sex (and more easily aroused) than those who don't drink at all, say researchers at Italy's University of Florence. The reason is thought to be the wine's actions on blood flow to the genitals. If this is enhanced, it doesn't take as much stimulation to get you in the mood. Don't go overboard, though; too much alcohol dampens sexual sensations.
2 - WATCHING WEEPY MOVIES
You might want to snuggle afterwards, but your partner could run for the hills. A study at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science found that being exposed to tears dampened down activity in the arousal part of men's brains.
"This isn't surprising," says Dr Diana Hoppe, author of Healthy Sex Drive, Healthy You: What Your Libido Reveals About Your Life (available from Amazon). "Men are supposed to protect women and, to the subconscious mind, tears mean you're not happy. This might make your partner feel he hasn't done his protecting job properly, which could leave him feeling less adequate."
If you fancy a movie, choose something a little bit sexy instead. Not surprisingly, watching other people get frisky tends to trigger the same response in us.
3 - MIXING HIS NIGHTLY GIN WITH TONIC
A trial at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, found that quinine - a common treatment for malaria and an ingredient in tonic water - lowered testosterone levels (in rats at least), and low testosterone leads to low libido. The good news is the same team has discovered ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) seems to reduce the damage, so stick a couple of hefty slices of lime in the drink, and all should be well.
4 - WEARING FLAT SHOES
For starters, your heel height may impact on sexual sensations. While investigating stress incontinence and pelvic pain, Dr Maria Cerruto at Italy's University of Verona found that heels between 3cm to 7cm high put strain on your ankles that makes you tighten your pelvic floor muscles, toning them up!
The other reason to hike up the heel height is that "you're not going to want sex if you don't feel sexy," says Désirée Spierings from Sexual Health Australia. "Often, especially in long-term relationships, we let ourselves go a little. We stop shaving our legs and other parts, don't paint your toenails or put on our saggy pants as we get in the door."
To counteract this, Spierings suggests wearing or doing something just a little bit sexy daily. Wear perfume, slip on matching undies or yes, put on high heels - whatever it takes to make you feel gorgeous.
5 - SUFFERING HAY FEVER
Suppose the red eyes, stuffed up nose and foggy head sensations weren't enough to put you off an "early night". In that case, the treatments you take to tackle the problem might do the job.
"Antihistamines can lead to difficulties with ejaculation for men and vaginal dryness in women," Spierings says. "More importantly, they can also inhibit sexual desire. They tend to affect the part of the nervous system related to sexual arousal and orgasm."
Other drugs that can lower libido include blood pressure medications, cholesterol fighters, antidepressants, cold and flu remedies and painkillers containing codeine.
6 - THAT NIGHTLY SPINNING CLASS
Overall, exercise is great for the libido. It makes you feel body confident, it revs up circulation, and exercisers tend to orgasm easier than sedentary types. However, you can fall into the overexercising trap, which can leave you too tired for love.
"To help restore hormone balance and get your energy and libido firing again, you need more rest," says Andrew Cate, author of The H-Factor Diet (ABC books, $19.95). "Structure your training so you alternate hard and easy days, and cross-train. This allows some muscle groups to rest while you work others."
7 - YOUR CONTRACEPTIVE
You use them to let you have worry-free sex, but an estimated 5% to 10% of women on the Pill find their libido falls.
"It could be coincidental," says Dr Edith Weisberg, director of research at the Sydney Centre for Reproductive Health. "However, oestradiol is known to increase production of a substance called sex hormone-binding globulin by the liver. This decreases the amount of testosterone in the blood, which may lower libido."
Switching to a different Pill may help, so talk to your GP about this. Also, watch out if you're using contraceptive injections - 8% of women in University of Sydney trials found their libido fell on these.
8 - YOUR PARENTS
Well, technically, their DNA. Studies have shown that we can inherit the ability to orgasm and the strength of our libido as part of our genetic make-up. If you have a low sex drive but your partner doesn't, don't panic.
"It's very rare that both [people] in a relationship have the same level of libido," says Elaine George, director of Sexology Australia. "Recognise that it's normal to be different but try to be empathetic to each other's needs. The problems with mismatched libidos occur if resentment sets in or you stop communicating about the issue. And when the small gestures disappear, so does intimacy, and that can be the biggest killer of sexual desire."
9 - NOT DOING THE WASHING
If your bedroom is full of clutter - be it an overflowing laundry basket, the morning post or even worse, work-related papers or gizmos like your BlackBerry - your sex life can suffer.
"Most women need to turn off their brain to get turned on," says Hoppe. "We are natural multi-taskers, but in the bedroom that can stop you from focusing on your partner and lead to less enjoyment and less arousal."
Get rid of anything that distracts you from the task at hand - and that includes the bedroom TV. "Studies in Italy revealed that people with a television in the bedroom have 50% less sex," says Hoppe.
10 - YOU'VE STOPPED SMOOCHING
When did you and your partner have a full-on teenage make-out session? Well, it might be time to give one a go. According to anthropologist Helen Fisher from the US' Rutgers University, sloppy, open-mouthed, tongue-twisting kisses help pass saliva from your man to you - and his spit is packed with libido-boosting testosterone. Stopping the smooches might also stop this natural passion booster.
11 - YOUR CHOLESTEROL LEVEL
According to doctors at the Second University of Naples in Italy, women with high cholesterol levels have lower arousal levels, are less likely to orgasm and are more likely to suffer problems like vaginal dryness. Like with alcohol, blood flow is thought to be a key here; high cholesterol may lead to narrowed blood vessels around the body, including the genitals. Reducing cholesterol levels with diet and exercise may perk you back up.
12 - FINDING THE ONE
Now you'd think that once you'd found your dream man, you wouldn't be able to stop yourself getting jiggy with him. But according to research by psychologist Dietrich Klusmann at Germany's Hamburg-Eppendorf University, within four years from the start of a relationship, less than 50% of women want regular sex with Mr Right.
"Female and male sexual desire is evolutionarily designed to (among other purposes) establish and strengthen the bond," he says. He adds that while men keep wanting to have sex once that bond has developed (so you don't seek satisfaction elsewhere), women think the job is done, and so desire wanes.