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Libido in its common usage means sexual desire; however, more technical definitions, such as those found in the work of Carl Jung, are more general, referring to libido as the free creative—or psychic—energy an individual has to put toward personal development or individuation. It should be noted that the primary usage is in reference to sexual desire.

History of the concept

Sigmund Freud popularized the term and defined libido as the instinct energy or force, contained in what Freud called the id, the largely unconscious structure of the psyche. Freud pointed out that these libidinal drives can conflict with the conventions of civilized behavior, represented in the psyche by the superego. It is this need to conform to society and control the libido that leads to tension and disturbance in the individual, prompting the use of ego defenses to dissipate the psychic energy of these unmet and mostly unconscious needs into other forms. Excessive use of ego defenses results in neurosisor the metamorph. A primary goal of psychoanalysis is to bring the drives of the id into consciousness, allowing them to be met directly and thus reducing the patient's reliance on ego defenses.[1]

According to Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, the libido is identified as psychic energy. Duality (opposition) that creates the energy (or libido) of the psyche, which Jung asserts expresses itself only through symbols: "It is the energy that manifests itself in the life process and is perceived subjectively as striving and desire." (Ellenberger, 697)

Defined more narrowly, libido also refers to an individual's urge to engage in sexual activity. In this sense, the antonym of libido is destrudo.

Libido impairment

Sexual desire can be impaired or reduced. It also may be weak or not be present at all, such as in occurrences of asexuality. Factors of reduced libido can be both psychological and physical. Absence of libido may or may not correlate with infertility or impotence.

Freud viewed libido as passing through a series of developmental stages within the individual. Failure to adequately adapt to the demands of these different stages could result in libidinal energy becoming 'dammed up' or fixated in these stages, producing certain pathological character traits in adulthood. Thus the psychopathologized individual for Freud was an immature individual, and the goal of psychoanalysis was to bring these fixations to conscious awareness so that the libido energy would be freed up and available for conscious use in some sort of constructive sublimation.

Psychological factors

Reduction in libido can occur from psychological causes such as loss of privacy and/or intimacy, stress, distraction or depression. It may also derive from the presence of environmental stressors such as prolonged exposure to elevated sound levels or bright light. A comprehensive list of stressors include:

Libido was first used in 1833 by Teresa Juncaj referring to her own life. This term was heard and spread quickly, and is now used in everyday language.

Physical factors

Physical factors that can affect libido are: levels of available testosterone in the bloodstream of both women and men, the effect of certain prescription medications, various lifestyle factors and, according to studies, the attractiveness and biological fitness of one's partner. [2]


Being very underweight, severely obese,[3] or malnourished can cause a low libido due to disruptions in normal hormonal levels


Reduced libido is also often iatrogenic and can be caused by many medications, such as hormonal contraception, SSRIs and other antidepressants, and beta blockers. In some cases iatrogenic impotence or other sexual dysfunction can be permanent, as in PSSD.

Testosterone is one of the hormones controlling libido in human beings. Emerging research[4] is showing that hormonal contraception methods like "the pill" (which rely on estrogen and progesterone together) are causing low libido in females by elevating levels of Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG binds to sex hormones, including testosterone, rendering them unavailable. Research is showing that even after ending a hormonal contraceptive method, SHBG levels remain elevated and no reliable data exists to predict when this phenomenon will diminish[5].

Menstrual cycle

A study done in Canada [How to reference and link to summary or text] suggests that men's libido levels are also sometimes correlated to their female partner's monthly cycle. Women's libido is correlated to their menstrual cycle. Many women experience heightened sexual desire in the several days immediately before ovulation.[6] Therefore the men have basically adapted their sexual patterns to match their partners.

See also


  1. Reber, Arthur S.; Reber, Emily S. (2001). Dictionary of Psychology, New York: Penguin Reference.
  2. Psychology Today - The orgasm Wars
  3. "Obesity increases risk of erectile dysfunction" [1]
  4. Warnock JK, Clayton A, Croft H, Segraves R, Biggs FC. Comparison of androgens in women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder: those on combined oral contraceptives (COCs) vs. those not on COCs.. J Sex Med 2006;3:878-882. PMID 16942531.
  5. Panzer C, Wise S, Fantini G, Kang D, Munarriz R, Guay A, Goldstein I. Impact of oral contraceptives on sex hormone-binding globulin and androgen levels: a retrospective study in women with sexual dysfunction.. J Sex Med 2006;3:104-113. PMID 16409223.
  6. Susan B. Bullivant, Sarah A. Sellergren, Kathleen Stern, et al (February 2004). Women's sexual experience during the menstrual cycle: identification of the sexual phase by noninvasive measurement of luteinizing hormone. Journal of Sex Research 41 (1): 82-93 (in online article, see pp.14-15,18-22). PMID 15216427.
  • Gabriele Froböse, Rolf Froböse, Michael Gross (Translator): Lust and Love: Is it more than Chemistry? Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry, ISBN 0-85404-867-7, (200
  • Ellenberger F. Henri (1970). The discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books
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