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Loss of interest in sex has been a problem in relationships throughout the millennia of recorded history. Although loss of sex drive is generally associated with couple in mid-life and later, it is an increasing problem even for people in their 20's.

Sex Drive Killers in Men

Any loss of interest in lovemaking is likely to cause relationship issues, especially if sexual activity at one time was intense.

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The hormonal "fuel" for sexual desire in both men and women is testosterone, the hormone that causes the outward expression of male gender markers but that is also found in lesser concentrations in women.

Men with intact testicles produce testosterone throughout life, but in declining amounts as they age. Most over 40 go through a stage of life sometimes termed "andropause." Every year after 40, a man's body produces about 1 per cent less testosterone. The reduction in testosterone reduces sperm production, muscle growth, and memory skills as well as sex drive.

Overweight men get a hormonal double whammy by virtue of the fact that fat cells produce estrogen, further reducing sex drive, and reducing one of the most powerful incentives to lose weight. Men who snore usually have lower levels of testosterone, and the hormone is also diminished by diabetes, cancer and chemotherapy, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, liver disease, diabetes, hemochromatosis (iron overload disease), and many medications. Of all these conditions, the most common and most correctible cause of diminished sex drive is obesity.

Sex Drive Killers in Women

Even at birth, a woman's body contains a small amount of testosterone, but it is only after puberty that the adrenal glands begin to make testosterone in amounts that influence sex drive.

About the time of a woman's first menstruation, the adrenals begin to make massive amounts of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) from cholesterol. Some of the DHEA forms the stress hormones that are well known in the teenage years. Some of the DHEA forms estrogen and progesterone to prepare the uterus for conception and pregnancy. And a small amount of DHEA goes to the ovaries for conversion into testosterone to stimulate sexual desire. During the child-bearing years, a woman's sexual desire is highest in the middle of her menstrual cycle, when her body is also producing the high amount of progesterone (which makes the womb ready to receive a fertilized egg) and when she is mostly likely to ovulate.

Except in some relatively uncommon conditions like polycystic ovarian disease, a woman's body never makes a lot of testosterone, and production of testosterone peaks around age 30. Taking the Pill reduces production of testosterone and eliminates the monthly peaks of sexual interest. Production of testosterone, however, continues in the ovaries well after menopause.

In women, loss of libido can be associated with low levels of testosterone, but it is also influenced by low levels of estrogen. When the post-menopausal body stops making more than a minimal amount of estrogen, the vagina may become dry, making intercourse painful. Hysterectomy and oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) further reduce hormone production. And, since women have longer life spans than men, heterosexual women often lose their familiar partners in intimacy even as they also have to deal with reduced hormone levels.

Restoring Libido and Sex Drive in Men

Nothing does more to restore male sex drive than achieving normal weight. Not only does the change in body image restore self-esteem, the reduction in the mass of fat cells reduces the production of estrogen. Testosterone injections, of course, also enhance male sex drive, but many men find that taking the passionflower extract chrysin has a similar effect. Chrysin does not stimulate the production of testosterone, but it slows down the "recycling" of already-existing testosterone. There is no danger of causing prostate disease. Men under 40 who have intact testes, by the way, almost never need testosterone injections.

It also helps if men don't drink beer. The hops in beer contain compounds that bind to some of the same receptor sites as estrogen. In the Middle Ages in Germany, monks gave their teenaged novices teas of hops every night to quell sexual desire. Heavy smoking of marijuana, which is botanically related to hops, has a similar effect.

Restoring Libido and Sex Drive in Women

The obvious answer to low sex drive in women would seem to be replacing testosterone the same way doctors often offer estrogen replacement. There have been clinical studies that show that adding testosterone replacement to estrogen replacement indeed offers better protection against osteoporosis and also lowers most of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Only one clinical study, however, has ever show that testosterone therapy restores sex drive in women, and this study used 4 to 5 times the amount of testosterone that would restore levels to normal in men. Women who get this much testosterone are at risk of growing hair on the torso and face, losing hair on the scalp, deepening voice, aggression, and liver damage that can occur with steroid injections.

A superior approach is to provide the body with the building blocks it needs to make its own testosterone. A clinical study at the School of Medicine of the University of California at La Jolla found that giving women aged 50 to 60 a nightly dosage of 50 mg of DHEA doubled testosterone levels and improved libido, but without changes in muscle mass, fat mass, or estrogen. It's a good idea to stick to the nightly dosage of 50 mg of DHEA, since very high doses (2,000 to 3,000 mg a day) of DHEA can cause growth of a beard and deepening of the voice.

Treatments to Avoid in Restoring Libido and Sex Drive in Both Men and Women

High-pressure sales literature often touts the supposed benefits of taking androstenedione  for enhancing sex drive and sexual potency. Androstenedione in fact increases production of testosterone, in women. In men, it is converted into estrogen. Androsteinediol  increases production of testosterone in both men and women, but its effects may be short-lived and may not be timed to match sexual opportunity.