How can you increase your sex drive? Let’s count the ways.
The quest for an aphrodisiac—drugs, drinks, or foods that increase sex drive—goes back to the ancient Romans, beginning with oysters. As the story goes, the legendary Giacomo Girolamo Casanova ate a stack of oysters each morning to fuel his activities.
If oysters do have any effect, the secret is probably the amino acid D-Aspartic acid. Some research suggests that 3 grams of D-aspartic acid a day can increase testosterone in young and middle-aged men, though a 2017 research review concluded that there's not yet enough evidence to say.
Both men and women are randier when they have more testosterone. Low sex drive in men, which is linked to low testosterone, is often related to stress, depression, sleep apnea, and over-drinking. Some medications—including ACE inhibitors and beta blockers for blood pressure—can interfere with ejaculation and erection. It’s not unheard of for wives to complain that their husbands have lost interest. If that’s the case, women may want to encourage their husband to treat the underlying problems.
More commonly, men complain that their wives are turning them down, typically when they’re coping with small children and again in mid-life. Women do tend to experience changes after menopause somewhere around the age of 50, but they don’t all lose interest in sex.
In a survey by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), 20 percent of women in their eighties reported that they masturbated. So did 36 percent of women in their seventies, 46 percent of women in their sixties, and 54 percent of women in their fifties. Among women in their fifties, 36 percent said they had intercourse at least a few times a month and 17 percent reported masturbating that often.
“Women are complex; loss of desire or low desire is complex,” says JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, executive director of NAMS. “Low testosterone plays a role, but the role is not clear.”
The vagina gets dryer after menopause, which can make sex painful, an obvious turn-off. Products that introduce estrogen in the vagina can help.
The DHEA vaginal suppository Intrarosa, which is approved for painful sex, may also boost desire and response. Studies evaluating its effect in women with low libido are in clinical trials.
Flibanserin, the so-called “female Viagra,” or “pink pill,” is approved for premenopausal loss of desire. It doesn’t work like Viagra, increasing blood flow to the genitals; instead, it increases dopamine and other brain chemicals. It may also work after menopause. But the evidence for it is not robust.
So far, there are no FDA-approved testosterone products to increase female sex drive.
Estratest, a combination of oral estrogen and testosterone, has been approved to treat hot flashes and some evidence shows it can boost desire. But women should talk to their doctors about the risks of taking hormones, which Pinkerton says are higher if you have an elevated risk of heart disease, blood clots or stroke, or have had estrogen-sensitive breast or uterine cancer.
Pinkerton recommends lowering stress and cutting back on pills that can dampen libido, which include oral contraceptives, anti-allergy meds, anti-depressants, anti-seizure or pain meds, and high blood pressure medications.
Herbal supplements like Avimial and Zestra “may be helpful but lack rigorous testing or government monitoring,” Pinkerton says. New devices on the market such as the Fiere may improve desire and arousal.
Treating depression may raise libido, if your medication doesn’t also have a dampening effect. Counseling to improve relationship communication can help, she noted. Another booster may be overcoming bad habits like smoking, too much alcohol or recreational drugs.
You can also boost your motivation by exercising your vaginal muscles. “Kegels,” named for Dr. Arnold H. Kegel, who published his recommendations in 1948, can make it easier to achieve orgasms or intensify them. Various products provide resistance: try weighted cones or tongs.
A version of this story appears on Your Care Everywhere.