Many men in their late 30s or early 40s start to notice that their sex drive may be waning or decreasing somewhat. This can present itself in many ways: a decreased libido or desire to have sex, less frequent sexual thoughts or fantasies, more conscious decision-making and less spontaneity around having sex, less frequent masturbation, de-emphasizing sex in relationships, erectile dysfunction, changes in erection quality or frequency, longer periods of stimulation required to reach orgasm, and similar complaints. This can cause concern and worry among many men, but it’s largely a normal part of aging. In fact, decreased libido, absent any other underlying health conditions or causes, is often primarily a result of changes in hormones and hormone production.
That may be small comfort to men who want to still act and feel as they did when they were younger. It’s worth understanding the biological processes associated with aging that lead to decreased hormone production and a lowering of your sex drive in the first place. Since there are causes that aren’t strictly age or hormone-related – and may, in fact, be signs or symptoms of underlying medical or health problems – understanding the mechanisms by which libido normally decreases can help you become more aware of your body and responses. That, in turn, will make you more readily able to detect when something more serious may be happening, something that warrants medical attention or some tests by your doctor.
For most men, however, decreasing libido with age is perfectly normal, caused by hormones, and can be offset through supplements, medications, and good health habits. The good news is there are now more ways to treat decreased libido and associated erectile dysfunction than ever before. We’ll explain all about it in our guide below.
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As most people know, the primary sex hormone for males is testosterone. It is responsible for sexual development at puberty, as well as most sexual response, arousal, and libido-related aspects of male sexuality. It is produced in the testicles in men, and that production tends to decrease linearly with age. By around the mid-30s to late 40s, most men start to experience a pronounced decrease in libido over time. In fact, on average, men lose about 1% of their testosterone levels per year, or 10% per decade, starting around this age (Endocrine Society, 2012). That’s hard to quantify in terms of the “feelings” associated with decreased libido, but it is definitely noticeable.
It’s important to note that these hormonal changes are part of a human male’s normal life cycle and not a sign of a health condition. They happen gradually, just as with most of the effects of aging, and are not a cause for concern. Of course, they may cause distress among many men, who wish to retain the same levels of sexual activity, arousal, ease of achieving an erection, and so on as when they were younger. That’s why there are treatments and health habits to help promote testosterone production and maintain libido. But decreased libido with age is really only a cause for genuine medical or health concern – possibly a sign of something more serious going on in your body – if it happens suddenly rather than gradually.
Quite naturally, these hormonal changes and decreased testosterone production are associated with clear physical changes as well. Some of these changes may be more pronounced than others, especially depending on the underlying physical health and routines of each individual man. In general terms, however, hormonal changes are responsible or partially responsible for physical changes, including:
Sex hormone changes are not the only causes of decreased libido and erectile dysfunction or related symptoms, however. There is a range of bodily changes, health conditions, and other factors that can contribute to decreased sexual desire, sexual activity frequency, and erectile changes. Some of these are well within your individual control to combat and change and therefore, may be relatively easy fixes. Others are more serious and may require medical or professional help in order to combat or reverse libido-decreasing or negative sexual effects.
Most often, decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, and other age-related male sexual health issues are caused by:
These are just some of the common causes of decreased libido and changes in sexual function in men – there are many more, though they may affect only a small percentage of the population. Nevertheless, you can see from the list above that the causes are highly varied, and while hormones play a very important and central role, there are numerous other vectors or avenues by which your sexual desire, performance, and physical functioning may change, often significantly, over time as you age.
Because of the varied reasons for decreasing libido and sexual health issues, it’s vital that you discuss any changes or concerns with your doctor or health professional. Often, this can be a tricky subject for men, as so much of masculine identity tends to hinge on sexual function, virility, and similar. There’s no shame in admitting a problem to a doctor – who by law has to keep that information private, anyway – so that you can find out if what you are experiencing is normal or abnormal, and what you might be able to do about it in either case.
This becomes all the more important if you are suffering from pre-existing or concomitant health conditions, since some of the treatment options for decreased libido may be contra-indicated. For example, not all ED medications are suitable for people with heart conditions. A doctor will be able to assess some of the causes of your problems and what the healthy, effective solution(s) to those problems may be. There is a range of different treatment options, as well as many steps you can take naturally as you age to preserve or boost your libido and associated bodily systems, as we’ll discuss below.
Many of the natural ways that you can preserve or boost your libido, work to preserve testosterone production, and otherwise remain in good health are the same kind of advice you should follow to limit the effects of aging on your body overall. Most are, effectively, healthy habits for healthy aging, and have the added benefit of helping to maintain or boost your libido and sexual function as you age.
As always, it may be useful to discuss any major changes to your fitness or health routines with your doctor or health professional before you begin, to ensure that you are healthy enough for such activity and that it is safe for you, given your own health, medication, and related situations.
In the case of illnesses or health problems that may be contributing to decreased libido or causing erectile dysfunction, seeking treatment from your doctor or health professional is the best course of action. This can include starting new treatments for a particular problem, such as diabetes, heart disease, high or low blood pressure, etc., or adjusting or changing medications to one that doesn’t have so many negative libido-depressing sexual health side effects.
At the same time, your doctor or healthcare provider may be able to offer one or more treatment options to help with your testosterone levels, libido, or sexual function. These can include:
Even if your problem is largely mental and stress-related, your doctor can help, with referral to a therapist, anti-anxiety medication, or similar.
Generally speaking, reported issues of erectile dysfunction tend to increase with age. According to one study, around 11% of men report ED issues by age 40, 18% by age 50, and 25 to 30% by age 60 (Rastrelli & Maggi, 2017; Boston University School of Medicine, n.d.). Therefore, it’s pretty clear that erectile dysfunction becomes more common with age. While it is true that erectile dysfunction and libido are not directly correlated, they do tend to play off one another, with ED issues often leading to decreased libido or willingness to engage in or initiate sexual activity, partnered or otherwise.
Both erectile dysfunction and decreased libido are partially or significantly caused by decreased hormones – particularly testosterone – in the male body, something that is fairly common due to aging. However, there are a variety of causes for ED that may not be hormonal. This can include other health conditions that impact blood flow, pressure, or cardiac function, psychological problems, various illnesses and diseases, and even medication side effects. Any repeated instance of ED that causes a man distress or concern should be discussed with a doctor or healthcare professional, as there are treatments available.
The spectrum of “normal” frequency for sexual activity varies significantly at all ages, and what might be normal for some might be very abnormal for others. With that said, according to AARP, couples over 50 surveyed saw 31% report having sex several times a week; 28% a few times a month; 8% once a month or less; and 33% rarely or never. Despite this range, most couples – including those who rarely or never have sex – report being happy or extremely happy. Some of this can likely be chalked up to both parties having a decreased libido as they age, as well as a maturity of relationship where sex may play a less important role.
Aging and hormonal changes are most often responsible for the decreased libido that men feel, starting in their 30s or 40s. A normal loss in sexual desire and corresponding negative impact on sexual frequency, function, and satisfaction is commonplace and not usually a cause for concern. That doesn’t mean you have to accept it, and there are many things you can do to fight back. Making lifestyle changes, taking supplements, and ensuring proper nutrition are some of the best ways to preserve or boost testosterone and offset any decreased libido from aging. In the case of erectile dysfunction and hormone-related libido issues, various targeted supplements or ED medications may be the perfect solution or used in combination with lifestyle changes. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to consider these options – your sexual health and wellness are worth an awkward talk with a doctor or an online consultation!
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While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.