Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), now known as female sexual interest/arousal disorder, is a sexual dysfunction that causes a lowered sex drive in women.
Many women will pass off the symptoms of HSDD as the inevitable effects of aging or changes in their body.
If your sex drive is affecting your quality of life, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
What are the symptoms of HSDD?
While it’s healthy for sexual desire to fluctuate, a woman with HSDD will usually experience a lack of sexual desire for six months or more.
If changes in sexual desire are so extreme that it’s affected your relationships or self-esteem, it could be HSDD.
Symptoms associated with HSDD include:
- little to no interest in sexual activity
- few to no sexual thoughts or fantasies
- disinterest in initiating sex
- difficulty getting pleasure from sex
- lack of pleasurable sensations when the genitals are stimulated
How do doctors diagnose HSDD?
Unlike other medical conditions, there is no specific test to diagnose HSDD. Yet, there are a few methods used by doctors to diagnose the condition.
Start by telling your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor may ask questions about how your low sex drive is impacting your well-being.
Your doctor will try to identify an underlying cause for the condition. These causes could be physical, emotional, or a combination.
Physical causes of HSDD can include:
- coronary artery disease
- decreased estrogen or testosterone levels
- hormonal changes during or after pregnancy
- fatigue or exhaustion due to a grueling work, family, or school schedule
- taking certain medications that affect sex drive
Emotional causes of HSDD include:
- a history of anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem
- a history of sexual abuse
- trust issues with a sexual partner
Your doctor may also conduct a pelvic exam to identify any changes that might have affected your sexual desire. A blood test to check for affected hormone levels might be performed, as well.
However, sometimes there is no specific underlying cause for HSDD. This does not mean that HSDD cannot be treated.
How do doctors treat HSDD?
There are various methods used to treat HSDD. To find the right treatment, it’s key to understand the underlying cause of your symptoms.
Your doctor may ask if you’re currently taking any medications. Certain medicines can negatively affect sex drive.
For example, some antidepressants may cause a lowered sex drive. In such cases, a doctor may suggest a prescription with fewer side effects.
Do not stop taking antidepressants without a doctor’s approval.
If it seems that emotional issues are the root of your symptoms, your doctor may suggest counseling. Not only can a specialist teach you how to communicate better with your partner, but they can also help you identify sexual techniques for a more pleasurable experience.
It’s common for premenopausal and postmenopausal women to experience changes in estrogen levels. This is due to a reduction of blood flow to the vagina.
If lowered estrogen levels are causing your symptoms of HSDD, estrogen therapy may be suggested. Your doctor will recommend applying a cream, suppository, or ring that releases estrogen in the vagina. This can increase blood flow without the unwanted side effects that come with taking an estrogen pill.
Another treatment option is the pill flibanserin (Addyi), which has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This medication has been shown to boost sex drive in premenopausal women with low sexual desire.
However, the drug is not for everyone. Possible side effects include hypotension (low blood pressure), fainting, and dizziness.
The injectable medication bremelanotide (Vyleesi) has also been FDA-approved to treat low sex drive in premenopausal women. Possible side effects include severe nausea, reactions at the site of the injection, and headache.
Lifestyle changes could also relieve stress and help improve a woman’s libido. These include:
- exercising regularly
- setting aside time for intimacy
- sexual experimentation (such as different positions, role-playing, or sex toys)
- avoiding substances that affect sexual desire, like tobacco and alcohol
- practicing stress-relieving techniques, such as mindfulness-based interventions
Don’t underestimate the effect a decreased sexual desire can have on your well-being. If you feel symptoms of HSDD have impacted your quality of life, talk to your doctor. There are treatment options available.