When you think of testosterone, you likely think of a manly man. You know the type – strong, muscular, deep voice and sexy. But testosterone is also responsible for aggression, competitiveness and libido. And as men age, their testosterone levels slowly begin to decrease. In fact, it’s common for testosterone levels to drop by 1-2 percent every year beginning at age 30. This dwindling supply of sex hormones actually has a name – andropause – the male equivalent of menopause.
Regardless of age, the result of low testosterone levels is decreased libido or sex drive. But before you turn to testosterone replacement therapies, you should know that there are things you can do to encourage your body to produce more testosterone on its own.
Diet and Exercise
Body fat is an opponent of libido in two ways: It inhibits testosterone production, and breaks down testosterone already in the system. The male hormone and all its characteristics, including libido, disappear into fat cells. So, if you were worried that those extra pounds were a turn-off for your partner, they’re actually a turn off to your own body! This is especially true of fat around the abdomen, because belly fat absorbs testosterone more efficiently than any other fat cells in the body. To raise libido, the challenge is not so much to reduce weight as to reduce waist size. Chances are good that a man with a beer belly has lower testosterone levels and therefore lower libido.
Studies show that having a body mass index (BMI) that’s too high can definitely mess with your mojo. When you gain body fat, hormones affecting your libido are thrown out of whack. “It’s a chain reaction,” says Jennifer Berman, MD, a urologist and sexual-health expert in Los Angeles. Increased BMI causes levels of a natural chemical known as sex-hormone-binding globulin to increase, which causes testosterone levels to fall. In addition, high cholesterol associated with obesity can lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels that supply the pelvic region, slowing blood flow to the genitals and inhibiting sexual arousal.
State of Mind
Men have a reputation for always being in the mood, but in truth, the male sex drive is deeply entangled with state of mind. In fact, any man coping with depression should have his testosterone levels checked.
Psychology professor Charles Hill, of Whittier College in California, explains: “depression can reduce libido, along with interest in other areas of life. So can anxiety. Concern about work and other pressures can crowd out interest in sex. Any source of stress, really, can reduce libido.” Prescription drugs won’t necessarily solve the problem, either. Anti-depressants, it has been widely noted, can actually suppress libido. Alcohol, which many people use to escape stress, will also diminish sex drive.
Ironically, for some men, sex is actually the source of the stress. With premature ejaculation as the most common sexual dysfunction, many men simply give up. “Prior failures in attempts to perform sexually or to create relationships can create performance anxiety, which sabotages future efforts [to have sex],” says Hill. To increase libido, you may first need to address the stress in your life.
Viagra Does Not Affect Libido
Viagra is probably the most celebrated drug since the polio vaccine. But it’s important to note that drugs for erectile dysfunction (ED) won’t do anything for libido. The ability to have an erection is a distinct issue from the desire to have one. ED drugs are successful in overcoming psychological issues but they work poorly for men who have low testosterone.
“More than half the Viagra prescribed to men is not working,” according to Dr. Geoffrey Hackett, a British expert in sexual medicine. Dr. Hackett, a consultant urologist, says men with erectile dysfunction could be wasting time and money on Viagra and similar drugs when their real issue is low testosterone. He was speaking at the launch of new guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of sexual disorders. The guidelines are published in the journals Maturitas and Human Fertility.
According to Dr. Hackett, a man’s sexual function is directly related to the health of his sexual organs, and those organs need testosterone to stay healthy. “Testosterone levels are high in a man’s teens and twenties, but begin to decline during a man’s thirties. When testosterone is replaced, libido and sexual performance return to prior levels. And the benefits don’t stop with a better sex life,” says Dr. Hackett. “Testosterone replacement can improve a man’s physique, mood, energy, sleep, and overall health. Reaching for the “little blue pill” may prompt a bit of blood flow, but it may also delay treatment of the real cause of a lagging libido: low testosterone.”