libido [Lat.,=lust], psychoanalytic term used by Sigmund Freud to identify instinctive energy with the sex instinct. For Freud, libido is the generalized sexual energy of which conscious activity is the expression. C. G. Jung used the term synonymously with instinctive energy in general. Many psychiatrists now feel that Freud overemphasized the concept of libido as the determinant of personality development and did not adequately emphasize the results of socializing forces. The term drive is often used instead of libido but without the sexual implications of the latter. See psychoanalysis.
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.

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 neurosis. 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.

According to Swiss psychiatrist 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

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

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:

  • depression
  • stress or fatigue
  • childhood sexual abuse, assault, trauma, or neglect
  • body image issues
  • adultery or attraction outside marriage
  • lack of interest/attraction in partner
  • sexual performance anxiety
  • moral choices and/or conventions, such as observed in celibate people

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 (like for example proscar (a.k.a. finasteride) or minoxidil), various lifestyle factors and, according to studies, the attractiveness and biological fitness of one's partner. Inborn lack of sexual desire, often observed in asexual people, can be also considered to be a physical factor.


Being very underweight, severely obese, 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 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. Some question whether "the pill" and other hormonal methods (Depo-Provera, Norplant, etc) have permanently altered gene expression by epigenetic mechanisms.

Left untreated, women with low testosterone levels will experience loss of libido which in turn can often cause relationship stress , and loss of bone and muscle mass throughout their lives. (Low testosterone may also be responsible for certain kinds of depression and low energy states.)

Conversely, increased androgen steroids (e.g. testosterone) generally have a positive correlation with libido in both sexes.

Menstrual cycle

Women's libido is correlated to their menstrual cycle. Many women experience heightened sexual desire in the several days immediately before ovulation.

See also


  • 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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