Long Distance, Low Libido
Our friend, and Ironman athlete, Nic Tickner shares his experience with low libido and low testosterone and how he ultimately got his mojo back. This is a challenge that many endurance athletes, and their partners, face behind the scenes.
Straight / Male / 28–32 / North America / Engaged
Low libido, low testosterone, and fatigue are not the first words that come to mind when describing an endurance athlete. I want to tell you, this is a reality many endurance athletes like me struggle with. Here is my story of how I faced and overcame those struggles and got back to an active sex life.
I have always been energetic, adventurous and extremely physically active. Endurance sports was the best self-help tool I was ever introduced to. I hope to be lucky enough to have this be a part of my life forever. From a young age I have been addicted to the freedom that my bike, or a pair of shoes offered me. I no longer ride rusty old Malvern Star with a wobbly wheel or chase cows through a paddock in gumboots, but all the same passions arise on daily training sessions when I am out doing my thing. I followed the regular path from cycling and running into triathlons and eventually into racing Ironman triathlons and marathons.
A race that takes anywhere from 8–17 hours to complete also takes a lot of time to train for. This intense training deeply affected those around me. Especially my significant other. For anyone embarking on this journey, I recommend having a chat with the love of your life about what a rigid and intense training schedule really looks like and all of the implications that accompany it.
Cue Tiffany. My amazing, fascinating girlfriend.
She challenges me, teaches me, questions me, loves me, supports me and ticks every box I could ever hope to have in a partner. I also have never been more physically attracted to someone in my life. We enjoy a very passionate and active sex life, and are a touchy feely couple. We require and crave each other’s physical connection and attention as a solidifying and contributing factor in our relationship.
Oddly, at one point during my Ironman training, our sexual activity went down.
In 2013 I took the leap and started training for my first Ironman. I got myself a coach, I wanted to be able to race this thing, not just limp to the finish. I was all in. At the time, I was working in a very intense, high paced, physically demanding kitchen, which by itself can be a pretty taxing environment.
The training program began to ramp up and the average weekly training hours began to move from the low teens to the high teens and beyond. Line that schedule up with 50 hours per week sweating in a hot kitchen on my feet and hey presto, my partner was wondering “where did my man go?”
The toughest part wasn’t committing all that time to training and work or falling asleep mid conversation while lying in bed. Those things were completely explainable. At the time, what was inexplicable, was my lack of sex drive.
I knew it was all me, and I couldn’t explain what was going on. I was 28 and I never experienced low libido before. Yet, I was still head over heels in love and unbelievably attracted to the woman of my dreams. There were no wandering thoughts and no questions of commitment. I was confused. I found myself daydreaming and fantasizing about my girlfriend during the day. I would tell myself: “Go home tonight and jump your queen”. The night would come, I would watch her bounce around the house and think “All aboard, let’s do this!”
Chemically: Nothing. “WTF is wrong with me!?!?”
To be confused in my own feelings or actions, that was new to me.
After about a month of noticeable decline in sexual adventures we were wrapping up a cozy night at home. All I could do was meet Tiffany’s seductive kisses with another ‘cute’ kiss, they type that contained no sexual intent. The decline of our sex life had been on both of our minds but this was the first time we would speak about what was happening. More appropriately, what was not happening.
We broached the topic and discussed some of the recent efforts Tiffany had made to create the perfect setting. Regularly, this would have been a pretty quick cue for a pile of clothes on the living room floor and two sweaty bodies somewhere in the house. It’s not that I didn’t see the cues. I just had no urge to act on them. Sex was always appealing to think about, there was just not much going on to drive that feeling from thought to action. Upsetting and puzzling.
I was heart broken to hear the thoughts going through her mind. “Is he not attracted to me anymore? Am I not attractive any more? Is there someone else? Is this the beginning of the end? What is happening? What changed?”
I was crushed to hear this.
Through all the years of our relationship, we never had such a situation. How could I have confidently told her to lay all of those doubts to rest? Her thoughts were certainly not my reality. Mentally I was begging for a lightning bolt of sexual energy to strike down from above and for us to tumble the night away all over the house. The reality was a mental and emotional yearning with little chemical zap inside me to back it up.
I sat there in silence, full of heartache, with her thoughts painfully repeating in my head. And I had no answers.
Fortunately, she did have some answers. Tiffany had already done some reading during the weeks of confusion leading up to our first conversation. She shared with me a potential piece to the puzzle that seemed to describe what I was experiencing.
It appeared (self-diagnosed Dr. Phil) that I was experiencing symptoms of what many endurance athletes experience in varying severity. Low levels of testosterone or what is commonly known as “Low T”. It seemed that many similar cases are either ignored, misdiagnosed or written off as exhaustion from the demands of training.
There can be many causes of Low T outside of the endurance community, but two largely overlooked causes of Low T for this story’s relevance, are ‘over training’ and ‘lack of recovery’. The most common symptoms include fatigue and low libido. Having Low T for a prolonged period can lead to fertility problems, insomnia and bone density abnormalities (we have all heard of stress fractures in endurance athletes). Luckily for me, it was a pretty mild case and the only major symptom I was experiencing was the lack of libido.
I did further reading and came to the conclusion that the biggest causes for me were lack of sleep and recovery. I was simply trying to do too much and something needed to change. I didn’t have long to go until race day but I still made a few changes to try to combat the situation before I experienced anything more severe. The first and most simple change which provided the most noticeable results was sleep. Surprise surprise.
For most people living a busy lifestyle, sleep is often the first thing to go. I was no exception. Filling your schedule exclusively with work, training and sleeping can make for a pretty lacklustre lifestyle, especially for those supporting your athletic journey. Finding a balance to satisfy both partners’ desires can be tough.
I made some simple changes: mainly a little less TV and an earlier bedtime. That changed my sleep from about 6.5hrs to at least 8 hrs per night. Boom, instant game changer. Things started to jive again. But during this first season we did not find a complete resolve for the situation. Race day was almost here and we sort of just pushed through acknowledging the situation. At the same time, we both understood I wasn’t completely broken given the positive changes we observed.
I raced Ironman Cairns not long afterwards and had a great day. In the days after the race we began the trip of a lifetime taking 3 months off work and training, living in a roof-top tent on our car while circumnavigating Australia. We created great memories outside the tent and eventually everything returned to normal leading to great memories inside the tent.
I have continued to enjoy racing endurance events for many years and plan to continue to do so. I have also continued to enjoy a healthy and active sex life with my beautiful lady who is now my wife to be. After that first season, I wanted both of these passions to be achievable going forward, so I sat down to plan my next racing season with Tiffany. We discussed what needed to change to make this more sustainable and enjoyable for both of us. A few priorities shifted and I am now far more realistic about fitting in a 7-hour training ride and a rock show into the same day. I am acutely aware of fatigue levels and far better at listening to my body. Sometimes I have to be responsive to my body telling me when hitting snooze for a sleep in will be far more beneficial in the long-run (pun intended) than what I may gain from that early morning swim session.
For those out there in a relationship experiencing low libido, endurance athlete or not, I suggest talking to your partner about it. Assure them where your head and your heart is and then try to find your remedy together. This was my experience, my cause and my resolve. I am sure there are many variables and causes out there, but leaving it undiscussed or unattended can have much more serious and long-term consequences than a few missed cuddles.