If this happens occasionally, it’s usually no big deal, but if it’s a regular occurrence, something might be up.
“Some people think low sex drive doesn’t happen for men, but it absolutely does, it can be common,” says researcher Andrea Fagiolini, M.D., of the University of Siena in Italy, who notes that it’s not always a psychological condition—say, an issue you’re having with or about your partner—but often a physiological one.
“There can be several factors affecting your libido that you might not think are connected,” he says. Your sex drive could be put in park if you’re dealing with one of these issues.
It’s not just the mental health effects of packing on the pounds that could hamper your sex drive—it could come with physiological effects, too. Guys with “central obesity,” or a waist circumference of 40 inches or above, had significantly lower levels of testosterone than men with more svelte waists, a 2014 study in Clinical Endocrinology found.
One of the most common causes of depressed libido is low testosterone, Dr. Fagiolini says.
That’s because areas of your brain—such as the amygdala—that are associated with sexual desire have abundant testosterone receptors. When there’s enough testosterone, the hormone lights up those receptors, and it’s go time. But if there isn’t enough, the effect can be reduced desire, according to Dr.Fagiolini.
But getting more may not be as easy as simply replacing low T levels with hormone therapy, according to a recent study. In that research, which looked at 156 randomized controlled trials, researchers noted that testosterone supplementation didn’t show consistent benefit for sexual function or increased libido.
While supplements may help some—chat with your doctor to see if it might help—there are other ways to boost testosterone naturally that are worth a try, too.
The most reliable may be exercise. One study found that progressive resistance training can prompt more testosterone release—and it may help keep your gut in check, too.
In an Italian study, researchers recruited men who’d been diagnosed with sexual arousal disorders, and had them sit in front of light boxes every day for two weeks.
Half the group got a major dose that mimicked natural sunlight amounts, while the other half got only a small fraction of that amount. Those in the sunny group reported significant changes in their sexual desire levels—and also more sexual satisfaction levels overall.
Dr. Fagiolini, who led the study, says the effect is likely because bright light causes you to produce more of a pituitary chemical called luteinizing hormone. The more you have of that, the greater your testosterone level, he says.
“We can definitely recommend this treatment for sexual dysfunction,” Dr. Fagiolini states. “One advantage is that it’s relatively natural, so it doesn’t have side effects like a medication might.”
Look for a light box that provides 10,000 LUX of light and has a UV filter, like the Day-Light Classic 10,000 LUX Bright Light Therapy Lamp. The Mayo Clinic recommends using the box for 20 to 30 minutes within the first hour of waking up, sitting about 16 to 24 inches away. Your eyes should be open, but not looking directly into the light.
Dr. Fagiolini still advises men to talk with a doctor before buying a light box, though, since there are some conditions like glaucoma that can worsen with light therapy.
Your snoring might signal another reason you don’t want to get it on the bedroom. Snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, which is also linked to lower testosterone levels.
The hormone rises as you sleep and falls if you’re struggling to get your ZZZs, according to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Plus, they found that of 401 men getting tested for sleep apnea, 70 percent also had erectile dysfunction, too. They also struggled with sexual desire and overall satisfaction when they did have sex.
Fortunately, there are many dependable ways to reduce sleep apnea, according to Abbas Mansour, M.D., director of the Sleep Lab at Baptist Easley Hospital in South Carolina.
“Doing a sleep study and getting treatment [like a CPAP machine] can alleviate many symptoms,” he says. Besides potentially boosting libido—and correcting snoring, which is its own boner killer for your partner—addressing sleep apnea can also lower other serious health risks, Dr. Mansour adds. “You can reduce risk of hypertension, heart issues, and stroke.”
When you’re dealing with a health condition, medications can be a miraculous solution. But they can also be tough on your libido.
“The main thing is to talk to your doctor and not be embarrassed about this topic,” says John William McEvoy, M.B.B.Ch., M.H.S., of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Your doctor needs to know if there are side effects to your medication, no matter what they might be.”
High blood pressure medications, in particular, can cause sexual issues because they’re diuretics, Dr. McEvoy says. That means they decrease blood flow throughout the body—including to your penis. When that happens, it can be more difficult to get an erection and that can bum you out enough to lower your sex drive.
Other common medications that have been reported to have an effect on libido are antidepressants and opioids like oxycodone and morphine, according to the Mayo Clinic. These can lower testosterone levels and suppress sexual function.
Even the hair-growth drug Propecia might be a factor, according to a clinical trial data from the manufacturer. Just under four percent of men treaded with Propecia experienced sexual side effects like decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. But two percent of those on a placebo experienced the same issues.
To address these problems, take Dr. McEvoy’s advice and chat with your doctor about lower sex drive, even if you don’t think it’s related to your medication.
Cortisol is the hormone that helps you handle stress—in the “fight or flight” kind of way—but when it’s elevated on a continual basis, your body can get run down pretty fast.
Basically, it can be like having an alarm clanging for days, and never shutting it off, according to Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure. She notes that cortisol plays a vital function in modulating the immune system, regulating blood sugar, and keeping blood pressure steady.
But high cortisol levels over time become a major problem in many significant ways, she notes.
“When you operate on maximum cortisol, everything is affected,” Dr. Gottfried says. “Your sleep is off, you store fat more easily, you’re anxious, you increase systemic inflammation, and you could develop thyroid issues.”
Any of these situations can affect your libido, she adds.
The solution? Work on stress management techniques like deep breathing, going to bed earlier, and eating healthier.
“Find something that you really enjoy and do it every day,” suggests Dr. Gottfried. And hey, that can even include sex (Plus, 19 other ways to live a stress-free life).