Is your sex drive inherited? We asked the experts

Finding the right balance between you and partner’s sex drives is essential for a healthy relationship. Of course, that looks different for everyone, whether you two have sex all the time, or both consider it an afterthought. We all get so many messages about what a “normal” libido looks like, but those are mainly all made up, since they can even change over time. Unlike the color of our eyes or even our risks for certain diseases, our sex drives aren’t inherited. But they can be impacted by a couple factors throughout our lives.

So if our libido isn’t inherited, where does it come from?

Dr.Ryan Pasternak,  an adolescent medicine specialist in Louisiana and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells HelloGiggles that the sex drive or levels of “horniness” is actually an “individual experience derived from a complex mix of biology, neurology, psychology. and social interaction.”

The main component of our sex drive is our levels of  testosterone and dopamine, which aren’t generally thought of as heritable substances, and how they interact with our neurotransmitters and the sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which is protein produced by our livers and then latches onto both testosterone, estradiol (an estrogen), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), according to Natural Bio Health. Dr. Michael Ingber from the Center for Specialized Women’s Health explained it a little more simply to HelloGiggles:

"The level of testosterone is dependent on your ovaries, your adrenal glands, and the activity of an enzyme found in many cells around your body called 'aromatase' which can actually convert estrogens into testosterone. The testosterone which is 'free' and not bound to SHBG is what plays a major role in driving female libido."

So it’s the levels of testosterone (and other hormones and how much they latch onto SHBG) that make us horny or not. The amount of all of these fluctuate over time for any number of reasons, but research doesn’t suggest that these levels are inherited from our parents. Especially since these levels can fluctuate for a number of reasons. Pasternak explains that if you’re getting hormone therapy because your body doesn’t make enough or as part of cross gender therapy, your sex drive will peak. On the flip side, people who have low levels of these hormones will experience a “depressed libido,” as he puts it.

This is why your hormonal birth control or antidepressants might affect your sex drive. Your birth control, which doesn’t have testosterone in it, for example, can increase the amount of SHBG in your body, which binds more testosterone, thereby making your libido go down. Likewise, some antidepressants increase your serotonin receptors, which can decrease the dopamine in your brain and lead to a lower libido.

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