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Ways to boost your libido (and sex life)

We’ve all heard the rumours — but can oysters and chocolate really put you in the mood?

Casanova is rumoured to have eaten 50 raw oysters for breakfast to prepare himself for his nightly escapades. Quite how these slimy molluscs that look like something you might clear from the back of your throat became the go-to love food is a matter of some debate — or a hard one, you might say. But was Casanova wasting his time, or was he onto something?

For years, people have searched high and low — long and hard — for a solution to a problem that’s perhaps more common than you might think. Did you know that up to one in five men have a low sex drive [1]?

It’s time to tackle this topic by debunking some of these age-old aphrodisiac myths and looking at ways you really can give your love life a boost.

What exactly is libido?

Libido is another term for your sex drive. It’s very individual — there’s no widely accepted measure of what constitutes a healthy level of desire. It’s also normal, but not inevitable, for libido to decrease somewhat with age, for many reasons.

If your libido is reduced to the point that it’s distressing you or affecting your relationship, it’s a good idea to get help — most causes are treatable. 

Many things can affect your libido, which can be broadly divided into three categories.

Causes of low sex drive can be:

  • Biological — Underlying medical conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes can cause obstruct the vessels supplying the penis making it difficult to get and maintain an erection. Other factors, like low testosterone, certain medicines, and lack of physical activity may also affect your libido. 
  • Psychological — Depression, stress, previous negative sexual experiences, and low self-esteem all influence how the brain responds to sexual stimuli. 
  • Social — Relationship problems or having a baby, for example, can cause a big shift in the home environment and make the idea of sex less appealing. 

Often, low libido is due to a combination of causes. It’s about identifying them and trialling different approaches. 

But first, do oysters stimulate your sexual appetite?

Because we’re all dying to know… 

The short answer: oysters are unlikely to turn you into a sex god. But that’s not to say they don’t have their benefits. 

Some people attribute oysters’ libido-raising properties to their zinc content — just one oyster packs a whopping 5.5mg [2]. Why’s this important? Well, if you’re a man who is zinc deficient, topping up your levels may also boost your testosterone levels [3], the hormone that helps to maintain a healthy sex drive.

It was previously thought that zinc gives your little swimmers a boost too, but recent evidence showed that zinc had no bearing on semen quality or male fertility [4].

Oysters are rich in D-aspartic acid which, rather tenuously, has been linked to a man’s libido. The truth is, some studies show that this chemical gives animals a testosterone boost, but this finding is much less convincing in humans [5]. Take from it what you will.

And sorry to be a buzzkill, but there’s also limited evidence that chocolate works as an effective aphrodisiac [6].

Now we’ve cleared that one up, let’s move on to what really works. 

6 proven ways to boost your libido

Sadly, there’s no magic philtre or potion that can ramp up your sex drive from zero to one hundred, but there are some things that are likely to help.

While the following options might not be as exciting as bivalve molluscs, what they do have is data to back them up. 

1. Maintain a healthy weight

Having a higher body mass index (BMI) is more likely to put a dampener on your sex drive [7]. Studies show that being overweight can affect body confidence and is more likely to result in lack of sexual enjoyment, difficulties with sexual performance (including erectile dysfunction [8]), and avoidance of sexual encounters [7]. 

Along with a host of other health benefits, getting yourself to a healthy weight will likely give your libido a lift too. If you’re considering losing weight, check out the NHS weight loss plan or try starting a new challenge like Couch to 5K.

2. Check (and correct) your T levels

It’s normal for your testosterone (T) levels to decrease as you get older — by about 2% a year from your 30s onwards [9]. But some men find their levels drop beyond this, especially men with obesity or underlying conditions, like diabetes [10].

If you’re experiencing a low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, or a decline in night-time erections, it might be a good idea to get checked with a Free Testosterone Blood Test. This blood test measures both total testosterone and free testosterone, the more biologically active counterpart.

The good news is that low testosterone levels are usually treatable. For most people, making lifestyle changes is usually enough to tip T levels into a normal range — find out how you can boost your testosterone levels naturally

For some men with low T levels and associated symptoms, medication in the form of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) may be an appropriate treatment. 

3. Learn to manage stress

A little stress here and there is good. It keeps you motivated and functioning when faced with a challenge. But chronic stress, the kind that persists over a long time, is not so healthy and it can affect your sex life. 

Chronic stress leads to high levels of cortisol, which inhibits testosterone production and can reduce your sexual desire and arousal. Stress can also alter your cognitive state, taking your focus away from sexual stimuli during sex [10]. 

Tension and worry are also common triggers for anxiety and depression. There’s evidence that depression can lead to reduced sexual satisfaction [11]. 

Finding a balance in life is key. Make sure you allocate yourself some downtime and check out our 10 top ways to de-stress. If you’re still feeling constantly on edge, speak to friends, family, or your GP about it.

4. Work together on your relationship

Relationship problems are one of the more common causes of reduced libido [1]. If you’re in a relationship, and have been for a long time, you may have become overfamiliar with your partner, and feel a degree of sexual dissatisfaction. Equally, unresolved conflict can lead to tension and a lack of sexual desire. 

Talking openly with your partner and exploring your sexual experiences can help you get a better understanding of where the problem lies. 

If it is a performance issue, such as ejaculatory problems or erectile dysfunction, don’t be embarrassed to speak to your GP. If the issue is around the relationship, psychosexual counselling is another option, to discuss sexual or emotional issues that might be contributing to the problem. The counselling service, Relate, has more information on the benefits of sex therapy and how to discover what turns you on

5. Rule out underlying conditions

Sometimes, low libido is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. Both conditions can cause damage to the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the genitals making it difficult to get an erection. Diabetes can also cause fatigue and lower testosterone levels, which may also reduce libido. 

The best way to rule out these conditions is to talk to your GP. You can also check your risk of heart disease and diabetes at home with our Heart Disease Risk Blood Test and Diabetes (HbA1c) Blood Test.

6. Review your medications with your doctor

Some medications can reduce your libido. Ironically, many treatments for depression and anxiety (which in themselves are causes of low libido) can lead to decreased desire, arousal, and difficulty reaching orgasm. In these instances, it’s often a case of weighing up the benefits versus its side effects. 

Medications that might reduce libido include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — mainly used to treat depression and anxiety
  • Diuretics (water tablets)
  • Antiepileptic medications
  • Testosterone inhibitors, such as cimetidine, finasteride, and cyproterone

A quick note on the blue pill

Sildenafil (Viagra) is sometimes used to treat erection problems but you still need to become aroused enough for it to work.

This means that sildenafil on its own won't increase your libido per se, but it can help you get and maintain an erection if that's something you've been having trouble with. Of course, if erectile dysfunction is one of the things that puts you off sex, then sildenafil may help you overcome this obstacle and bring back some of your sex drive.

If you're having persistent trouble getting an erection, see a GP. It can be a difficult topic to broach, but one that doctors see often — it's very common, particularly in men over 40. Usually, it's treatable and nothing to worry about, but occasionally it's a sign of an underlying problem like diabetes, so it's always worth checking.

Takeaway

Aphrodisiacs, as appealing as they may be, are not as effective at boosting libido as rumours would suggest. You’re much more likely to improve your sexual desire by living a healthy lifestyle, keeping your T levels in check, and communicating with your partner.

If you’re left feeling troubled by the topic, there is no shame in asking your doctor for advice. The Sexual Advice Association also provides more information on men’s sexual health with advice on where to go for support.


References

  1. NHS Inform. 2021. Loss of libido (sex drive) causes and treatment. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/sexual-and-reproductive/loss-of-libido> [Accessed 9 February 2022].
  2. Nutrition Data. n.d. Mollusks, Oyster, Pacific, raw. [online] Available at: <https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/finfish-and-shellfish-products/4193/2> [Accessed 9 February 2022].
  3. Prasad, A., Mantzoros, C., Beck, F., Hess, J. and Brewer, G., 1996. Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults. Nutrition, 12(5), pp.344-348.
  4. Schisterman, E. et al., 2020. Effect of Folic Acid and Zinc Supplementation in Men on Semen Quality and Live Birth Among Couples Undergoing Infertility Treatment. JAMA, 323(1), p.35.
  5. Roshanzamir, F. and Safavi, S., 2017. The putative effects of D-Aspartic acid on blood testosterone levels: A systematic review. International Journal of Reproductive BioMedicine, 15(1), pp.1-10.
  6. Golomb, B. and Berg, B., 2021. Chocolate Consumption and Sex-Interest. Cureus, 13(2), e13310.
  7. Kolotkin, R., Binks, M., Crosby, R., Østbye, T., Gress, R. and Adams, T., 2006. Obesity and Sexual Quality of Life*. Obesity, 14(3), pp.472-479.
  8. Jiannine, L., 2018. An investigation of the relationship between physical fitness, self-concept, and sexual functioning. Journal of Education and Health Promotion, 7(1), p.57.
  9. NHS. 2019. The 'male menopause'. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/male-menopause/> [Accessed 9 February 2022].
  10. Mollaioli, D., Ciocca, G., Limoncin, E., Di Sante, S., Gravina, G., Carosa, E., Lenzi, A. and Jannini, E., 2020. Lifestyles and sexuality in men and women: the gender perspective in sexual medicine. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 18(1).
  11. Hamilton, L. and Julian, A., 2014. The Relationship Between Daily Hassles and Sexual Function in Men and Women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 40(5), pp.379-395.
  12. Chen, L., Shi, G., Huang, D., Li, Y., Ma, C., Shi, M., Su, B. and Shi, G., 2019. Male sexual dysfunction: A review of literature on its pathological mechanisms, potential risk factors, and herbal drug intervention. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 112, p.108585.