It’s very normal, not to mention frustrating sometimes for our sex drive to fluctuate. One minute you’re insatiable, the next you’ve, well… got a headache or are washing your hair.
Most women experience periods of low libido and high libido throughout their lives. From hormones, to stress levels, medical conditions and medication, there are all sorts of factors that affect our appetite for sex, and for it to waver – sometimes wildly – is a normal part of sexual health.
Some women however, experience unusually high sex drive for an extended period. So why is this? And the big question...
Can a sex drive be too high?
"I must admit, it’s rare that I get asked about high sex drive," says Dr Verity Biggs, female health and menopause lead at H3Health. "It’s usually low libido that’s the problem."
Is this because high sex drive is never ‘too high’ i.e. never a problem?
"I think the only way sex drive could really be considered too high is if it’s causing a problem or interfering with your life," says Biggs. "This could mean that it’s impacting your work, socially, or in terms of your relationships."
There’s also the dangerous, risk-taking behaviour that a high sex drive can lead to.
"For instance, if someone is putting themselves in dangerous situations, whether practising unsafe sex in terms of STI risks, the environment in which they are having sex, or the people they are having sex with," says Biggs. "Then that might be deemed a problematically high sex drive."
The link between mood and hypersexuality
Certain mood disorders like bipolar, for example, which mean that your moods can go from one extreme to the other can also mean a problematic high libido.
During manic episodes people take risks in many different ways," says Biggs. "Uncontrolled spending, dangerous sports, and perhaps ‘hypersexuality’ (an increase in sexual activity).
"This might mean new sexual partners or a tendency to take part in riskier sexual behaviour that could make you more vulnerable to things like STIs."
What if your sex drive is higher than your partner’s?
Would this count as problematic? And therefore too high?
"What tends to happen in this situation," says sexpert Tracey Cox, is that "the high sex drive person feels like a sex pest, and the low libido person feels like they’re always letting their partner down."
So, in a word, yes, because this discrepancy can cause the ‘blame game’ to take hold, causing conflict in your relationship which can be one casualty of having a particularly high sex drive.
It’s important to remember however that your high (or low) sex drive is not your fault.
Read more: How to get the spark back in a relationship
For one, we are biologically mis-matched. A man’s sex drive peaks in his 20s, whereas a women’s actually increases as her fertility decreases, peaking in our 30s/40s and decreasing in perimenopause and after the menopause.
So, it may appear that a woman has a notably high sex drive, but actually it’s more that it’s out of sync with her partner (if her partner is a man), so she wants it more at the time of life that he’d perhaps prefer a round of golf!
"There’s also evidence," says Cox, "That our resting libido is genetic."
Indeed a 2006 study by Israeli researchers, identified a ‘horniness’ gene called the DRD4, or the ‘dopamine D4’ receptor gene.’ Levels of dopamine determine our ability to experience pleasure.
Read more: The foods that boost – and zap – libido
Hormones are a powerful force
Those pesky hormones play a huge part in our libido. Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone all increase a woman’s appetite for sexual intimacy. Higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone are generally associated with increased desire. Testosterone also has a small part to play for women (and oestrogen a small part to play for men).
It’s the fluctuation of these hormones throughout your menstrual cycle that are most likely to have an impact on your levels of horniness.
As Dr Biggs says: "Your libido changes throughout a normal menstrual cycle. Around the time of ovulation, (mid-cycle, when oestrogen levels are at their highest) your sex drive increases naturally as it is preparing for the chance of conception."
Interestingly, a 2013 study found that when a woman’s oestrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest and they’re at their most fertile, not only is their sex drive at its highest but they are also more interested in sex with men other than their primary partners.
"It’s important we remember," says Biggs, "that libido is about so much more than sex. It’s about body confidence, self-esteem and how we feel about ourselves."
"Following a healthy lifestyle will improve your libido naturally – things like exercising, not smoking or drinking alcohol, and getting a good night's sleep.
There is also evidence to say that a drop in stress levels (we’re all for that) or stopping certain medication* such as anti-depressants like Prozac, can also see a marked increase in sex drive. (Never stop medication without speaking to your doctor and note: anti-depressants need to be reduced gradually.)
One of the reasons that many women reach their sexual prime in their 40s, is simply down to what’s going on in their life at that time.
"Often women are financially more stable, they have more freedom," says Biggs.
"Perhaps children have grown up and they have more time for themselves either alone or with a partner."
"Body confidence and confidence in other ways that come with career progression and having the lifestyle they like and enjoy, can all impact and go towards that ‘not giving a cr** attitude’. There’s also the freedom from contraception and pregnancy worries.
"Relationships could have ended and new-found freedom can lead to experimenting."
And a new-found enthusiasm for sex.
Read more: How a woman can enjoy sex whatever her age
The testosterone effect
Testosterone is vital when it comes to female sexual wellbeing as it contributes to libido, sexual arousal and orgasm by increasing the levels of the pleasure hormone dopamine. As women age, our levels of testosterone naturally decrease, along with oestrogen, which can make it more difficult to become aroused.
However, "The female body’s last-ditch attempt at fertility in our late 30s and 40s can causes surges in hormones – like testosterone – that could drive a higher libido," say Biggs.
"During perimenopause, hormones are pretty much a rollercoaster of ups and downs, added onto the normal monthly cycle changes. "
"Some women get a little surge of testosterone before they go through the menopause," says menopause expert, Dr Louise Newson, "which means an increased libido… it is all how your hormones play with each other and the difference between them."