Karen Fratti
February 03, 2018 7:37 am

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.

If you feel like your decreased sex drive is making your relationships harder or frustrating you — which can make having an orgasm harder — you should talk to your doctor about other forms of birth control or antidepressants that don’t affect your libido, especially if sex is something that normally makes you feel good.

Ingber says that a woman’s levels of SHBG can change over time and that doctors aren’t normally concerned with the levels of them when it comes to a sex drive, but that they can do certain therapies that affect the binding effect of SHBG. These are done mainly in Europe since these kinds of testosterone therapies aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration here in the U.S., but it’s something you can bring up with your doctor if you feel like something’s off. Your neurology also factors into your sex drive, according to Pasternak.

He reminds HelloGiggles that you have to have an “intact dopamine pathway” to have a libido, but neurological or cognitive disorders don’t mean that a person doesn’t have a sex drive. Pasternak adds:

"It was often inappropriately believed that persons with cognitive disorders or intellectual disabilities had no libido or sex drive. This is inaccurate. Persons with cognitive or intellectual disabilities oftentimes display normal libido. Therefore, developmentally-appropriate discussions surrounding sex drive should be a key part of parenting and health care delivery for all persons."

The kinds of conversations we have growing up can affect our sex drives as adults, according to Pasternak. Our religious beliefs and intro to sex ed can have a psychological effect on our libido. So can other things, like our “family interactions, repressed fears, and past negative experiences related to sexual relationships,” according to Pastnerak. He adds that being in an abusive or controlling relationship will also affect your sex drive, for obvious reasons.

But when it’s good, it’s great. He added:

"Alternately, strong supportive relationships where good communication exists and both partners feel safe often leads to more pleasurable intimacy. Supportive relationships, where both partners can be vulnerable together about their shared desires, pleasures, and needs, can foster improved and healthy libido.  This establishment of trust between partners, even during periods of sexual exploration, is likely to help persons lead safe and enjoyable sex lives."

Which means that if your sex drive has suddenly taken a nosedive in your relationship, you might not want to worry too much about your hormones or how much testosterone is binding to what and take a look at your relationships. If you’re stressing about having too much or too little sex, or you and your partner aren’t getting along anymore, that could have more to do with your libido than any of your DNA. Shacking up with sex positive, respectful, and supportive partners will make getting intimate infinitely more fun. Now trying to find the time in your busy schedules to get it on? That’s a whole different story.

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