Levels of testosterone and other naturally-occurring reproductive hormones play a limited role in driving menopausal women’s sexual function, according to a new study conducted in Michigan and six other clinical sites across the country.
The findings, which appear in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, suggest that a woman’s relationship satisfaction and other psychosocial factors may outweigh any hormonal effects.
While testosterone is the main sex hormone in men, women also have small amounts of it, as ovaries naturally produce testosterone. Researchers set out to examine the role it and other hormones play in sexual function as women go through menopause.
“While levels of testosterone and other reproductive hormones were linked to women’s feelings of sexual desire, our large-scale study suggests psychosocial factors influence many aspects of sexual function,” says lead author Dr. John F. Randolph, Jr., professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School and researcher with the U-M School of Public Health.
“A woman’s emotional well-being and quality of her intimate relationship are tremendously important contributors to sexual health.”
Researchers examined data from 3,302 women who participated in the ongoing Study of Women’s Health across the Nation (SWAN) to analyze the relationship between reproductive hormones and sexual function during the menopausal transition. Participants were asked about their desire for sex and sexual activity. The women also had their blood drawn to measure levels of testosterone and other reproductive hormones including dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), which the body can convert into testosterone or a form of estrogen called estradiol, and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The body’s levels of FSH naturally rise when a women experiences menopause.
Researchers found women who naturally had higher levels of testosterone reported feeling sexual desire more frequently than women with low levels. Women who had high levels of DHEAS – a precursor to testosterone – also tended to feel desire more often than women with low levels.
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