Understanding Your Sex Drive

Yes, there are bigger problems than having an underactive sex drive; but on the other hand, a low libido could be a ticking time bomb if it’s caused by a hormonal imbalance. If you’re the kind of person who believes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it could be time to decipher the link between your hormone levels and your libido.

Before diving into the details, it’s time for a little context. One person’s low libido is another person’s everyday experience – in other words, there’s a wide range of what’s considered to be a “healthy” sex drive. More than just comparing yourself to an imaginary golden standard, look at the patterns in your own life. Do you feel like something’s off, or like you’re missing out? Are you familiar with what a normal libido feels like for you, but you just can’t seem to regain it? Hormonal imbalances aren’t really something that you can self-diagnose, but there are a few factors you can look at that may help you decide whether a sex drive test is the best next step.

Women may notice marked irritation or pain during intercourse if their sex hormones are low or imbalanced. The female sex drive is a little trickier to objectively track because of natural monthly variations, but one factor that’s impossible to miss is routine discomfort, especially during (or after) sexual intimacy. Pain and inflammation are red flags no matter where or when it happens; in this case, if it’s present together with low libido, that’s a pretty good indication that imbalanced hormones are the cause.

Men could experience sexual dysfunction if their hormone levels are too low. This is strongly linked to low testosterone, in particular, but you won’t always find one where you find the other. Some guys can have no issues at all, even with low testosterone levels, where other men can test within normal testosterone ranges and have no idea what’s causing their mechanical problems. However, if the problem isn’t testosterone, it’s still quite possible that another hormone level is off-kilter; this is why you can’t get the complete picture by testing just one or two hormones.

Low self-esteem is sometimes the result of hormonal imbalances. This might sound like a stretch, but the math checks out. If someone’s sex hormone levels aren’t sufficient to maintain the kind of libido they’re comfortable with, they could end up feeling inadequate and even depressed at what feels like a personal failing. This is even more common in people who are in a relationship, as they feel like their lack of sexual interest is a disappointment to their significant other. Therapy is often recommended to help with self-esteem issues, but if the root cause is hormonal, they would definitely benefit from addressing that aspect too.

Unpredictable mood swings can be tied to low sex hormones. Yes, that’s right – loads of estrogen isn’t the only thing that could cause you to get emotional at the drop of a hat. In fact, men are just as susceptible as women to sudden mood changes if the issue is low sex hormones. This type of imbalance is often characterized by high cortisol, otherwise called the “stress hormone”. While you need certain amounts of cortisol, chronically elevated levels can eventually result in imbalances elsewhere, which will affect your mood – and your libido.

Last but not least, if you’ve been going through a period of reduced sexual desire, this could point to low hormone levels. Not exactly breaking news, but more people ignore this symptom than you’d think. It’s easy to blame low libido on not getting enough sleep recently, too much coffee, not enough exercise…when it’s actually due to an underlying problem. What’s more, this is the kind of problem that isn’t going to fix itself; it’s probably the result of subtle changes in your hormone levels over months or even years, so it’s worth paying attention to once you’ve made the connection.

If getting a sex drive test is the logical next step, what’s the best way to proceed? First of all, don’t try to find a one-size-fits-all solution. Hormones have a way of working together in a very complicated fashion, so you probably won’t be able to see the whole picture with a single test. It could take a few tests to figure out what’s going on, and that’s fine – in fact, tracking your hormones over a period of a few months would actually give you a much better understanding of how your body works.

Multiple visits to the doctor can add up fast; you’d need appointments both for getting the tests done, and for having the results explained to you. If this sounds less than appealing, then consider using Base’s at-home lab tests instead. Among other things, Base offers sex drive tests that will help you figure out not only your sex hormones, but also your levels of crucial vitamins and proteins as well. After each test, you can view both your results and personalized recommendations in the Base app. In addition to testosterone, estradiol (a form of estrogen), and progesterone, you could end up testing:

  • SHBG, or Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, which is linked to testosterone levels
  • Vitamin D, which is actually a hormone, as well as a precursor to some sex hormones
  • DHEA, nicknamed the “age hormone”
  • Cortisol, which is often the culprit for low sex drive if it’s elevated
  • HbA1c, a form of hemoglobin that’s important for balanced hormones

Try not to get intimidated by all the technical details; all you’ll have to do for most of these is take a simple saliva test and pop it in the mail. As you get the results back for each test, you’ll see the progress you’ve made in the last month; you’ll also get updated recommendations for supplement or dietary changes that could keep your progress going. Tracking your hormones will do more than just help you fix your sex drive; it’ll also help you understand how to keep those results you worked so hard for.

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