For the past four years, Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and author of Anatomy of Love, has been crunching the numbers from a massive sex survey undertaken by the Match.com dating site. (It sampled 20,000 unmarried American men and did not include Match.com clients.) "I was horrified," Fisher says. She found that for men in their sexual prime, or twenties through forties, 20 percent hadn't had sex in the past year and 25 percent reported it happened once a month or less. "It's really a sexual famine for single people in this country."
Mind you, we don't know for sure that men are getting it on with startling infrequency compared with a generation ago. Anthropologists weren't consulting for dating websites 30 years back. But modern life – the brutally competitive job market, the ever-plugged-in digital culture, the ready access to sex-drive-depleting medications (SSRI antidepressants, blood pressure meds) – suggests it. "These guys are coming out of the woodwork," says endocrinologist Florence Comite, a New York City antiaging doctor. "They're feeling overwhelmed, they're juggling a million things, and their libido is down."
Even psychologists agree that the remedy may be to focus on the body before the brain. "The solution to low sex desire has to do with lifestyle change more than some blinding insight about how sex really represents some subconscious thing that you didn't know it represented," says Russell Stambaugh, a clinical psychologist in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a spokesperson for the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Focus on key physiological factors and your mind follows. The bigger takeaway: Loss of sex drive isn't the inevitable baggage of aging – your sex-life success is in your own hands. So to speak.
Wean Yourself off Meds
The most immediate effect exercise has on sex may be to help wean you off near-ubiquitous medications that kill libido and increase the odds of erectile dysfunction. Lowering blood pressure by working out can mean safely dropping antihypertensive meds, such as diuretics, which decrease blood flow to the penis, or beta blockers, which may relax you to the point of non-arousal. The pharma elephant in the room: SSRI drugs that combat depression, often at the cost of a shrunken libido. "Depression is incompatible with sex drive," says University of Washington sexologist Pepper Schwartz, "and most of the meds people take for it will kill your sex drive effectively and quickly." Yet another benefit of exercise: It's proven to combat mild depression as well as SSRIs.
Credit: Daryl Solomon / Getty Images