For most, sex is seen as enjoyable, desired, and often craved. Even academic and philosophical theory have placed it on a pedestal. Take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory for instance – sex is deemed as a basic physiological human need. One that must come before various other aspects of one’s life, such as safety and love. Without this first initial acquisition of sex, one is believed unable to ever reach self-actualisation (thankfully, we take such theories with a grain of salt!).
Such desire is often expressed in our daily lives as well, from retail to novels, games and hit television shows. We have Sex Education, Fifty Shades of Grey, women pictured in lingerie as we walk past stores, and ‘smutty’ works of writing. Euphoria, the ever-popular series, is a noteworthy and theatrical demonstration of the presence of sexual desire. The character that piqued my interest most was Kat; going from a ‘frigid’ high schooler to a hypersexualised, fearless young woman. It’s a prime demonstration not only of the general variability of sexual desire, but also the immense variability that any one individual can experience. Kat demonstrates, like most things in life, that individual differences are pertinent to the variations of human libido. Imagining levels of libido on a bell-curve is a great way to visualise these differences.
Most people sit within the ‘norm’ of the libido bell-curve. However, much like any other consideration in life, there are always outliers: Those who experience hypersexuality, and those who experience minimal to no sexual desire. For those in the latter category, experiences of a sexually open culture may be perceived rather differently. The casual conversations with friends when drunk, when the time comes to have ‘the talk’, navigating adult relationships, relating to peers: all these things suddenly become quite different.
Acknowledging and understanding that people experience varied levels of libido is important, for your own interpersonal relationships and communications, bias, prejudice, and expectations. However, understanding why is a further step in the direction of compassion.
Sexuality can play a huge role in one’s libido. Various historical stereotypes and prejudices have pinned homosexual individuals as promiscuous, thus at the higher end of the bell-curve. However, on the lower end we see those identifying as ‘asexual’. Asexual as a sexual orientation has been described as lacking a sexual attraction to others, and/or having a low or absent desire for sexual activity.
There are a vast array of biomedical factors that can influence someone’s libido. Genes have been linked to a variation in sexual desire, which is unsurprising considering the extraordinary influence our DNA has on who we are. Further (and again unsurprisingly), hormones have been linked to libido levels. Various medical conditions and ailments too, have been linked. Cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure are among many conditions that have been linked to a lower libido.
I am sure this is one most of us can relate to! Fatigue and stress are often contributors to a lower sexual desire. During stressful periods, such as exams, deadlines, and long shifts, the last thing on your mind is likely to be procreation!
Linking with fatigue and stress, another contributor is often time, or a lack thereof. If you have been working eight+ hour night shifts, whilst trying to get on top of study, get assignments done, and see friends, you may not even have time to think about sex, let alone time to do it. For some people, this is a constant reality!
We have all had bad days. On these days, your libido may be feeling as down and out as you. For people with a diagnosed mental health condition, this is often an eternal reality. Various diagnoses, such as depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and personality disorders have been associated with a lower libido. On top of this, many people experiencing these conditions, and various others, are taking medications that may further reduce their sexual desires.
Again, medications come into play here, but so do a variety of other factors. Too much alcohol can reduce your sex drive, or even make it impossible to engage in sexual activities. Tobacco smoking and various illicit drugs have also been linked to a lower sex drive. Diet can also play a role: high sugar diets or a lack of carbohydrates and vitamins can reduce libido. On the flip side, various foods have been deemed aphrodisiacs, influencing an increase in libido: asparagus, oysters, and chocolate are among the list. Also, endorphin-producing exercise can increase libido, with a lack of exercise reducing it.
Unsurprisingly, personal history and circumstances can heavily impact sex drive. People who have experienced sexual trauma often experience varied libido, whether this be an increase or decrease. Other forms of trauma can also influence this drive, linking into diagnoses such as PTSD and its consequent impacts.
Context plays a massive role in libido. If you are experiencing a natural disaster, such a flood, bushfire or hurricane, sex is likely to be very low on your priorities. Similarly, times of war and other travesties can impact this. The aftermath of such events can continue to impact libido following the event’s conclusion. However, more personal environmental contexts can also inhibit libido: homelessness, financial instability, and grief being among the many.
SHAG week is a prime time to remember that sex is not the same for everyone.
Hello! My name is Tegan and I joined the Opus team in 2021 as an outlet to escape my PhD writing. I am yet to find my niche category, but you can probably expect pieces about postgraduate life, creativity, psychology, literature and all things cute and fuzzy. Outside of Opus and my PhD, I am also a peer mentor, team leader, tutor, and sessional academic (so you might just see me in class sometime!).