If the last thing you want to do RN is turn on some Marvin Gaye and get it on or if “getting in the mood” looks more like getting enough energy to clean the house than getting sexually aroused, you’re not alone. According to a 2013 study, up to 43% of women experience low libido. If your sexual desire has gone MIA, don’t panic. While it is fairly common, it’s not something you should have to live with, and there are lots of tricks, tips, and ways to improve it.
First of all, there’s no ideal level of sex drive for everyone. If you feel like you’re not as interested in sex as you should be, it’s probably worth taking action (because pleasure is not a welcomed bonus; it’s a human right). With the start of 2022 and a pandemic still going on (yes, that alone was enough to kill your libido, but more on that below), I asked sex experts for all their best tips on improving libido and achieving a healthy, abundant sex life. Read on for 10 tips to increase your sex drive by 2023:
1. Eat the right foods
You’ve probably heard about aphrodisiacs (there’s a reason we eat chocolate on Valentine’s Day), but how much does the food you eat really affect sex drive? “Foods like basil, bananas, figs, avocados, and garlic contain specific vitamins and minerals that increase blood flow to the genitals, which can naturally boost libido levels,” said Dainis Graveris, a certified sex educator and relationship expert at SexualAlpha.
And as for that heart-shaped box of chocolates? According to Graveris, chocolate releases serotonin and other chemicals that increase libido. One study even found that chocolate promotes the release of phenylethylamine and serotonin in the body, which can have an aphrodisiac and mood-lifting effect (*immediately orders dark chocolate in bulk*).
Graveris also suggested that eating an overall healthy diet (meaning lots of clean protein and plant-based fiber) can promote heart health and good circulation, which can thereby increase libido levels. Bottom line: It can’t hurt to experiment with how you feel after eating foods that are thought to have aphrodisiac effects, but an overall nutritious diet helps keep your libido healthy.
2. Try kegel exercises
So you probably have a workout routine for your glutes and biceps, but if you have a vagina, it deserves a workout routine too. The vagina is made of highly elastic tissue, supported by a series of muscles in the pelvic floor. Strengthening this area can not only improve your genital health but can also improve your sex life. “Women may benefit from doing Kegels regularly to improve pelvic muscle strength and regain libido,” said Dr. Alexandra Bausic, MD, a board-certified gynecologist and part of the team at Let’s Talk Sex.
To try a kegel exercise, squeeze your pelvic muscles for five seconds, followed by five seconds of relaxation. With daily practice, you can hold for up 10 to 15 seconds (depending on what feels good for you) and experiment with what you like and are comfortable with. Dr. Bausic also recommended trying kegel balls and eggs that can improve strength and provide sexual enhancement just by wearing them. Bottom line: Your vagina needs some extra TLC (even outside of the bedroom).
3. Get to know yourself better
In 2022, women are sexually freer than ever, but even if we feel like it’s OK to do what we want, we’re not always sure what we want. Not enough girls are encouraged to explore their sexuality, and not enough women are asked about their desires. Improving a dull sex drive is often as simple as learning what would turn you on. “Too many people don’t know what arouses them,” said Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sexologist, author, and educator for Lovers. “When you figure out what you like, you can make sure that you engage with things that arouse you. That also means that you won’t be wasting your time on things or people who don’t make you excited.” Start getting to know yourself by making a list of your turn-ons and explore fantasies. Most importantly, get to know your body on your own so you’ll know what you like with or without a partner.
4. Manage stress levels
Unfortunately, that overbooked calendar or loaded to-do list could be major buzzkills in your sex life. Even that important meeting next week or, IDK, a pandemic could be decreasing the amount you want to get it on. “The fewer things you have to worry about, the more your mind will be available to tap into your arousal and desires,” Stewart said. “Do your best to be aware of what makes you the most stressed out and problem solve from there. You can’t eliminate everything, but the less stress you have to deal with, the better.”
While it feels like stress is unavoidable in this day and age, Graveris suggested meditation or taking online classes like yoga or Tai Chi to relax the mind as well as making time for hobbies that are fun for you. Getting those seven to nine hours of quality sleep can simultaneously ease stress and improve your sex drive. While knowing that stress affects your sex drive can make you more stressed, the key takeaway is to give yourself grace if your sex drive isn’t high during stressful times (like a pandemic) and prioritize stress relief as much as possible.
5. Identify and treat any pain
While many factors happen in the mind, sex isn’t all mental. Sometimes, women experience libido issues because of pain or discomfort in the pelvic region (and pain during sex is too common to not be talked about or addressed). “I see many women that come to me reporting libido issues,” said Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, a pelvic floor physical therapist, author, and owner of Femina Physical Therapy in Los Angeles. “One of the most common reasons is pain or discomfort in the pelvic region, which could be due to endometriosis, vaginismus, vulvodynia, clitorodynia, or several other diagnoses that result in chronic pelvic pain or painful intercourse. Low back or hip pain could also impact the desire to engage in intimacy. Pain inhibits pleasure in most people.”
If you experience any kind of pain or discomfort during sex (which as many as 75% of women do), talk to your doctor about possible causes and a treatment plan and never stay quiet about what you’re feeling. If you consistently experience pain (or are worried about feeling pain again from a one-time experience), of course you’re not going to be in the mood. Sex should be pleasurable, period. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) put up with any pain or discomfort. “If you don’t address the pain and dysfunction that is present, you won’t be in the mindset to experience pleasure,” Jeffcoat said.
6. Focus on overall health
Sex is not just something you do in relationships (thank God); it’s a key piece of your body’s health and overall wellness. A healthy libido can be a sign of a healthy body, and taking care of your health will help your sex drive stay healthy as well. “Exercising and generally taking care of your body increase your stamina, improve your body image, and lift your mood, ultimately improving your libido,” said Rachel Sommer, PhD, a clinical sexologist, and cofounder of My Sex Toy Guide.
Steward agreed, explaining that general healthy habits (even if they seem unrelated) can help with your sex life. “I highly suggest daily habits that will make you feel good about yourself,” Steward said. “Meditation, hydration, exercise, sunlight, and daily learning are just a few things that help people have more productive lives and feel good about themselves.” Keeping up with habits that make you feel good leads to more confidence in yourself, and, as Stewart said, the more confidence you have in yourself, “the more access you have to your own pleasure.”
7. If you’re in a relationship, work on intimacy outside of the bedroom
While sex is totally separate from love, if you’re feeling a lackluster sex drive with your significant other, making some changes outside of the bedroom could boost intimacy in the bedroom. “Talk about your problems to prevent resentment buildup and feel in a better mood for sex,” Graveris said. “If there are issues in the relationship or within yourself that you need to work out, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional therapist.”
Emotional intimacy is directly related to physical intimacy, so make sure you feel connected, safe, and happy in your relationship. After all, you need a partner who you trust and makes you feel heard if you’re going to try new things and explore your sexuality together. Prioritize quality time like regular date nights, practice open communication, and make an effort to reignite the spark if you’re in an LTR. If you’re still having trouble getting in the mood with your partner, consider seeking out a relationship or sex therapist.
8. Prioritize self-care
If you haven’t gotten the point already with all this self-care talk, know that caring for yourself is crucial for every part of wellness, including your libido. “The psychological factor is very important: Women have to be in balance with their sleep, needs, and thoughts to have a healthy sex drive,” said Bausic. “Take time to rest, have a nighttime routine, take a bath, light some candles, or do yoga and meditate—anything that relaxes you and gets you in the mood.” Think of your sex drive like an iPhone (is that the weirdest sex analogy ever?): It needs to recharge to avoid shutting off. If your sex drive feels non-existent, you might not be doing enough to recharge yourself. Prioritize the indulgent practices that connect your mind with your body and stimulate the senses; you’ll feel heightened awareness that can translate into a heightened libido.
9. Try something new
No surprise here: Routine is a great thing when it comes to your calendar or how you spend your mornings, but not when it comes to your sex life. Excitement and spontaneity are key pieces of sexuality, which means some creativity and effort are required to keep your sex drive strong. Now, don’t panic, this doesn’t mean you have to upgrade your trusty vibrator for some new toy or forego scheduled sex to be more spontaneous if you don’t want to (anyone in an LTR knows what I’m talking about). The fix could be as easy as small, simple changes to make sex feel new again.
“One of the best ways to improve your libido is to try something new,” said Diana Wiley, PhD, a licensed marriage & family therapist and board-certified sex therapist. “Introducing novelty into the bedroom can help spice things up.” Yes, this could mean getting wild and checking off every item on our sex bucket list, or it could mean getting it on when you get home from work instead of at bedtime or moving your vibrator from the bedside table to a warm, relaxing bath. “Everyone’s different, so if there’s something that could get you excited, why not try it?” Sommer said.
10. Talk to your doctor
Improving sex drive is always a popular topic, and we typically focus on how mental tweaks or aphrodisiac foods can make a huge difference. But since sex drive is a key factor of general health and wellness, a low sex drive can be a sign that something’s going on in the body instead of a matter of mindset. “Don’t hesitate to seek your doctor’s help, especially if you’ve tried all measures to increase your libido and nothing works,” Graveris said. Everything from medications to medical conditions to hormonal changes can affect libido, so don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about your sex drive (oh, and if your doctor doesn’t prioritize your sex drive or take concerns seriously, it’s time to find a new doctor). Most importantly, you deserve pleasure, and a healthy sex drive is your right. No matter the root cause, if you’re not satisfied with your sex drive and can’t figure out why, seek out someone who can.