When it comes to sex, many women, according to their responses to surveys, don’t feel much desire or arousal. Past research has linked this lack to low levels of certain hormones in women. However, one study published in November 2014 indicated that while hormones do influence female desire, their effect is quite small. Instead, the woman’s mood and relationship status played a much bigger role. In which case that is good news for women since it puts the quality and enjoyment of sexual activity under their control, and their partners, without the need for medical intervention.
Study participants assessed their own sexual well-being through questionnaires, and blood samples were taken to test for hormones believed to play a role in sexual desire. Data was collected annually for ten years. The questions covered frequency of masturbation, sexual desire, sexual arousal, orgasm, and pain during intercourse. Blood tests examined the levels of several hormones, including testosterone, estradiol, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
Results showed that frequency of masturbation, sexual desire and arousal were positively associated with testosterone. Masturbation, arousal, and orgasm were negatively associated with FSH. Researchers were surprised that estradiol, a type of estrogen, was not associated with any measure of sexual function.
Commenting on the results, John D Randolph at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and lead author said, “This is the first really, really solid evidence that there is an association with hormones, particularly testosterone, and sexual function, but it’s pretty modest. It’s a really big study with a lot of women, and the effects of [hormones] were pretty small and were not nearly as big as the psychosocial issues.”
Regarding testosterone, Randolph said, “Our take is that there is a relationship there, but it’s pretty much dwarfed by relationship status, mood, etc.” Some previous studies advocated use of testosterone therapy to help improve sexual function in women who have had their ovaries removed. However, this approach should be treated with caution as the long-term health effects are not known.
Since testosterone levels in women are generally very low anyway, Randolph says measuring the levels in women experiencing difficulties in sexual function is not really necessary and may also not very reliable, since even small differences get magnified. Instead, Randolph suggests that doctors look into any relationship problems that female patients may be experiencing as well as their mood when investigating the issue.
Randolph said, “Any woman who has issues with her sexual function should really have other issues addressed first: relationship status is probably the number-one issue when it comes to female sexual function.”
For couples the message is that improving the relationship can help a woman get in the mood. So could flowers or other acts of consideration.
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