Common Barriers to Sexual Desire

Feb 27, 2024

Therapist doing online therapy Telehealth

Reduced sexual desire is one of the most common issues that brings people to a sex therapist. It is normal to have a low sex drive from time to time; we all do since our libido naturally fluctuates at different phases of our relationships and lives. However, for some people, a number of factors can lead to prolonged libido decline, impacting their relationships and overall well-being. Let’s take a closer look at the common barriers to sexual desire.

What is Sexual Desire?

Sexual desire, sexual drive, or libido is the core of human sexuality. It’s a complex mixture of thoughts, instincts, fantasies, and behaviors that set the stage for arousal, orgasm, and ultimately, pleasure. However, desire is the most delicate component of our sexual activity, sensitive to a variety of obstacles that might reduce or even extinguish its flame. Such challenges can disrupt our sexual life, impacting our relationships and overall life satisfaction.

As a result of various biological, psychological, and social factors, our libido fluctuates throughout our lives. Your desire for sex can change when you’re tired or stressed out, when you are not feeling well, or when you and your partner are fighting all the time. These libido fluctuations are normal. Still, it is important to address them with your sex therapist if they impede your relationship, satisfaction, and well-being.

3 Common Barriers to Sexual Desire

Your sexual desire can fluctuate or disappear due to biological, psychological, and social factors. Understanding these factors and how they may influence sexual drive and behavior is the first step toward getting appropriate support and having a fulfilling sex life.

Biological Barriers to Sexual Desire

The physiological aspect of sexual desire is what we know as libido, drive, instinct, or urge. It’s sexual energy hardwired into our being that can be interrupted by a number of biological factors, such as:

Chronic health conditions

Certain health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, can interfere with blood flow and nerve function, which are essential for sexual arousal and desire, significantly impacting sexual function. Also, medications used to treat these conditions can affect libido and sexual performance.

Hormonal changes

Hormones play a crucial role in regulating libido. Hormonal imbalances in different life stages, such as low testosterone in men and estrogen and progesterone in women, can reduce the desire for sex.


Many prescription medications, including antidepressants, blood pressure medications, or oral contraceptives, can lower libido as a side effect.

Alcohol and drugs

People who use alcohol and other substances may experience decreased sexual interest and performance over time.


If you’re constantly feeling exhausted or unable to get adequate sleep, this will eventually affect your hormone production and energy levels, decreasing your sexual desire. This issue often arises and may be a concern for many young couples in couples therapy who have to juggle demanding careers, parenting duties, and other responsibilities of daily life.

Psychological Barriers to Sexual Desire

Stress, anxiety, depression, body image, self-esteem issues, or past trauma can profoundly affect your mental state and well-being, leading to a decreased interest in sexual activities.

Mental health concerns

Mental illness can put you in a headspace that’s just not right for getting into the mood for sex. Mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression can make it hard to feel sexual desire because they keep you focused on negative thoughts or feelings about yourself and others.

Body image issues

Body self-consciousness and discomfort might harm your sexual life. People who are unhappy with their bodies often have low self-esteem, which can be detrimental to their desire or ability to become aroused or have an orgasm. At first glance, this makes sense. If you don’t like yourself or your body, it might be hard to get into the mood for sex. That doesn’t mean you should leave it to that, though. Your sex therapist can help you work on your relationship with your body, get rid of the negative voice in your head, and enjoy being sexual again.

Relationship issues

Couples with poor communication, frequent conflicts, or a loss of trust may feel emotionally disconnected. This inevitably diminishes sexual desire in one or both partners, causing intimacy challenges and keeping the couple in an unhealthy behavior loop.

Past trauma

Our bodies store memories of past trauma, making it difficult to feel desire and engage in sexual activity. People who have experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse frequently struggle with intimacy because of deep emotional scars, which cause heightened sensitivity to physical contact. This can include fear of intimacy, trust concerns, and difficulties with sexual desire. If you have survived trauma, you may withdraw emotionally from relationships in order to avoid reliving traumatic memories and experiences. Trauma treatment may be necessary to reprocess trauma and reduce the impact that trauma memories and associated feelings have on your life and well-being.

Social Barriers to Sexual Desire

Societal norms and beliefs

Do you feel comfortable talking about your sexual fantasies with your partner? Have you ever experienced guilt following masturbation? Societal expectations and pressures, as well as our cultural and religious beliefs, strongly shape our sexual behavior. Messages we internalize from our families, culture, society, religion, peer groups, and media become deeply ingrained in our subconscious mind, shaping our feelings about our own sexuality and sexual behaviors.

Societal, familial, or spiritual expectations regarding sexuality, gender roles, and performance can create anxiety and pressure, causing you to suppress your sexual desires and fantasies. From a young age, many of us were taught, directly or indirectly, to feel shame for having such fantasies. Thus, these exciting and pleasurable yet extremely inappropriate images in our minds frequently leave us feeling guilty, embarrassed, and uneasy about ourselves.

According to one study, the main obstacles to expressing sexual desire in later life include rooted stereotypes regarding the sexual roles of aging adults, a decrease in emotional closeness and intimacy, feelings of sexual inadequacy, and negative perceptions about one’s partner and life circumstances. Many aging adults feel that engaging in sexual activities during their years may be seen as improper, so they repress sexual desires.

Stressful life events

Adjusting to significant changes in life can be difficult since they interrupt our sense of stability and safety. Major life transitions such as becoming parents, health issues, job loss, and grief can increase stress and shift focus away from sexual desire, reducing your interest in sexual activities. Addressing these issues in therapy might help you develop effective coping strategies and rekindle passion in your relationship.

How Can Century City Counseling Help?

Working with a sex therapist can encourage open communication and help you address barriers to your sexual desire. Once you recognize and understand the underlying causes of your diminished sexual drive, you’ll be empowered to take the next steps toward getting appropriate support and treatment.

Let’s connect soon so we can set up a free consultation.


Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is a certified AASECT individual and couples sex therapist. Mr. Forni sees patients throughout California and Florida. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented therapy services to his clientele. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.