If you’re not “in the mood” as often as you used to be, don’t worry. You’re not alone (it happens to most of us), and there are several effective, natural ways to increase your libido.
Studies show that low sex drive affects 32% of women and 15% of men in the US (between the ages of 18 and 59) (1). While this study suggests that emotions are the strongest influencer in low libido, diet and lifestyle factors (such as sleep, a lack of nutrients, and side effects of prescription medications) can also diminish your desire to get it on.
Understanding what truly drives sexual desire is complex, but your hormone levels have a lot to do with it—which is why many of these natural remedies to boost libido aim to improve hormonal health.
Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and androgen hormones are the primary sex hormones that control the desire to have sex (in both men and women). Low levels of any of these hormones, especially testosterone, are linked to suppressing sexual desire (2).
Testosterone is considered the strongest hormone for sexual desire (3)(4)(5). While testosterone is commonly thought of as a male hormone, females also produce small amounts of testosterone in their ovaries and adrenal glands (6).
5 Habits Killing Your Sex Drive
Here are some of the most common diet and lifestyle factors that influence hormone levels and suppress libido.
It’s the ultimate catch-22 of libido: Sex helps relieve tension and stress, but it can prevent you from being able to get in the mood in the first place.
Of course, emotional stress can dampen your zest for life and deplete your sex drive. But let’s get more specific about the physiological effects of stress—and what chronic stress does to your hormones.
You see, hormones are your body’s “chemical messengers.” They control nearly every biological function your body performs—including growth and development, digestion, metabolism, sex drive, pregnancy, and regulating your stress levels.
Now, the reason why stress sabotages your sex drive is because it raises your blood cortisol levels, which is the primary hormone that regulates stress (7). In fact, studies show that high cortisol levels can actually lower or impair testosterone production in both men and women (8).
Because your hormones work so closely together, when one hormone is being over or underproduced, it has a domino effect on the rest of your hormones. (For example, your body might repeatedly release cortisol in response to stress.) This impact can “confuse communication” between them, and result in a hormonal imbalance (9)
While many of us experience some form of psychological stress on a regular basis, stress can take other forms (such as physical stress), which leads me to the next sex-drive inhibitor..
Exercise (too much or too little)
Good things come to those who sweat, but overdoing it can cause physical stress on your body and elevate your cortisol levels. And as previously mentioned, that’s linked to lowered testosterone levels.
Over-exercising may also impair estrogen and progesterone production in women, which has been linked to menstrual irregularities (10). A change in (or loss of) your monthly cycle and fluctuating levels of both of these hormones may reduce your desire to have sex (11).
However, moderate amounts of exercise (in particular, high-intensity exercise) have actually been shown to improve testosterone levels (12). So if your sex drive is low and you’re not exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, it’s worth adding a few weekly HIIT sessions to your routine. Then see if you notice a difference.
Eating a Diet Rich in Processed Foods
Healthy, balanced hormone production depends on specific nutrients (such as omega-3 essential fatty acids, amino acids, and fiber) (13)(14)(15). These essential nutrients are primarily found in whole, unprocessed foods (such as wild fish and meat, leafy greens, fruits and veggies)—not in a greasy fast-food bag.
Processed foods are void of nutrients, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies (when consumed regularly). And the sugar and trans fats they contain can do serious damage to your hormones (and sex drive) in the long run.
Let’s take refined sugar as an example.
Processed sugar is highly concentrated because it’s stripped of all nutrients (including fiber) that slow down its release into the bloodstream. Therefore, when you ingest refined sugar, it causes your blood sugar levels to rapidly spike.
In order to bring your blood sugar levels back down to normal, your body releases the hormone insulin into your bloodstream, which brings sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells. So as you can guess, the more processed sugar you eat, the more insulin your body has to release. Over time, this sugar can lead to imbalances in your sex hormones.
In fact, research shows that imbalanced blood sugar levels are linked to menstrual irregularities. And they may decrease blood flow to the genital regions in both men and women, which can lower libido (16).
And that’s not to mention the other hormone-disrupting ingredients (such as trans fats) found in processed foods.
Trans fats (such as hydrogenated oils) are the ultimate anti-nutrients for hormones. They promote inflammation in the body, which can interfere with hormone production (17). This inflammation is yet another way that processed foods can contribute to hormonal imbalance, and potentially decrease your desire for sex.
The Paleo diet is free from trans fats and processed sugar, and rich in hormone-balancing nutrients (such as healthy fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals). So eating a Paleo diet (even 70% of the time) could help offer your body the nutrients it needs to increase libido.
Smoking and Alcohol
In addition to processed foods, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can also cause nutrient deficiencies.
Frequent alcohol consumption can impair liver function, which prevents your body from properly detoxifying excess hormones your body no longer needs (18)(19). When these hormones aren’t properly eliminated, they risk getting reabsorbed back into your bloodstream, which may lead to hormonal imbalances.
Frequent alcohol consumption also puts stress on your pancreas. Since this organ is responsible for releasing insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, impaired pancreatic function can sabotage your body’s ability to metabolize sugar. As you now know, blood sugar imbalances can directly impact the functioning of the rest of your hormones, including sex hormones.
Tobacco raises blood cortisol levels, and it’s full of endocrine-disrupting toxins that have been linked to fatty liver disease and hormonal imbalances (such as thyroid dysfunction and insulin resistance) (20).
Bottom line: Cigarettes are a no-go for a healthy libido, and sticking to a 1-2 drink maximum can help prevent the loss of libido.
Essentially, birth control prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation (21). Since ovulation is when you’re most fertile, it’s typically when you’re more likely to want to have sex. Therefore, disrupting this natural cycle can suppress sexual desire.
A small number of women (approximately 15%) report a loss of libido when taking birth control (22). This loss may also be caused by the synthetic estrogen and progesterone found in birth control, which can throw off your body’s natural balance of sex hormones (23).
7 Natural Ways to Increase Libido
While the starting point for a healthier libido may begin by addressing the factors above, there are effective remedies that can improve your sex drive over time.
Foods That Naturally Boost Dopamine Levels
Studies show that low dopamine levels are linked to a loss of libido (24).
Dopamine is best known as the “pleasure” or “reward” neurotransmitter, as it’s released when we experience sudden gratification (such as crossing off a task on a long to-do list or receiving a big paycheck).
Now, dopamine is extremely complex, and its exact mechanisms aren’t even fully understood by scientists yet. But what we do know about dopamine is that it plays a heavy role in regulating positive emotional responses that can increase your desire to have sex (25).
Your body synthesizes dopamine from the amino acid L-tyrosine, so adding tyrosine-rich foods (such as eggs, spirulina, raw cacao powder, bananas, almonds, and avocado) to your diet can help increase your dopamine levels naturally.
Arginine can boost your sex drive because it turns into nitric acid in the body, which increases blood oxygen levels and causes blood vessels to dilate (26). Oxygen flow may help energize you (which may increase your desire for sex), and increased nitric oxide has also been linked to improve erectile function.
In fact, one study showed that men with erectile dysfunction who took 5 grams of nitric oxide per day for 6 weeks experienced significant improved erectile function (27).
Luckily, many of the foods highest in arginine are recommended on a Paleo diet: turkey, chicken, spinach, spirulina, asparagus, chard, and broccoli.
Studies show that arginine supplementation was shown to have no increase in blood oxygen levels (in healthy subjects) (28).
Certain essential oils (such as saffron and nutmeg) may increase sexual desire..
One study on male rats showed that crocin (an active ingredient in saffron) increased the desire to have sex. Meanwhile, nutmeg helped increase the mating performance of male mice (29).
While it’s unclear what effect these essential oils have on a woman’s libido, their naturally calming scents may help reduce stress levels and promote the desire to have sex.
You’re likely beginning to see the pattern here: a healthy libido can be achieved through your diet!
Aphrodisiac foods are foods that are shown to contain vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C) to help increase blood oxygen flow to the genital regions. Zinc may also increase sex drive because it helps regulate and boost testosterone production (30).
Other foods that are considered natural aphrodisiacs are oysters, pineapple, berries, arugula, dark chocolate, figs, and watermelon.
However, all whole, unprocessed foods will naturally provide you with essential vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy libido. So when you look at it that way, any food found in nature can offer your body the nutrients you need to promote a healthy libido.
As mentioned above, higher-intensity exercise (such as strength training) can help increase libido by improving testosterone production.
Research suggests that consistent strength-training sessions have the most impact on testosterone levels. However, testosterone production can improve after only one strength-training session (31).
While strength training can increase libido on a physiological level, it’s also an effective way to lose weight and trim body fat, which can help improve your overall confidence—in and out of the bedroom.
Panax ginseng has been used as a libido-boosting stimulant in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years—which is credited to its ability to increase nitric oxide production (32). In fact, many athletes use ginseng to help improve athletic endurance and focus, which could also be a health benefit between the sheets.
Other herbs (such as maca root, gingko biloba, and damiana) are said to be traditionally used to improve libido function. But very little scientific research has been done to prove their efficacy.
Meditation and Yoga
Inhale calm. Exhale stress!
When practiced for as little as 20 minutes per day, yoga and meditation can improve your nervous system function and reduce your blood cortisol levels.
One study recorded women who were under emotional distress and practiced yoga—for 90 minutes twice a week for 3 months. They reported a 50% reduction in depression and a 30% reduction in anxiety (33).
Some yoga poses included in the Kama Sutra (such as eagle pose) are said to help increase libido..
As you can see, ramping up your libido may be as simple as making small dietary changes to your lifestyle. But since a low sex drive generally has an underlying emotional component, it’s important to consider the psychological factors that may be preventing you from enjoying sex to the fullest.
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