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How Testosterone Affects Sexual Desire in Men and Women

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Researchers have conducted many studies to determine why sexual desire is higher in men, lower in women, as well as what affects it and why it increases or decreases over time. But the truth is most doctors don’t really know the answer.

While libido in humans remains a mystery, science has provided one conclusive finding based on biology, that testosterone, a hormone that both men and women share (along with estrogen), may be the reason why, specifically the levels of testosterone fluctuate as we develop and age. Those facts in mind, it’s important to understand the role testosterone plays in our bodies and how it can be elevated when it’s too low.

The Role of Testosterone

Most people think testosterone is something that affects the behavior of men and women, and that it is a factor in how the two sexes respond to each other. While there is a modicum of truth here, the role testosterone plays in the human body is a little more complex than that, but It can certainly influence sexual desire and behavior.

But as an essential hormone both men and women share, testosterone is also responsible for functions within the brain, bone and muscle strength and mass, and for moderating weight. That is why a decrease in testosterone levels can affect sexual desire and performance as well as have other health ramifications.

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What Testosterone Does for Women

Just as in men, testosterone supports major functions in a woman’s body. Along with estrogen, it is produced in a woman’s ovaries and adrenal glands, and besides aiding in her physical health, it also affects a woman’s sexual desire, impacts energy levels and gives a sense of overall well-being.

Major testosterone production in women usually starts to recede, though, in their 20s or early 30s. Low levels of testosterone may lead to sluggishness, reduced sex drive, weight gain, problems with fertility, irregular menstrual cycles and loss of bone density. On the other hand, too much testosterone in women can lead to facial hair and male pattern balding. On the positive side, not only does testosterone boost sex drive, but it can also aid in the development and premature death of an egg in a woman’s ovaries, if she is trying to get pregnant.

What Testosterone Does for Men

The presence of testosterone in men, on the other hand, is a different story altogether. In fact, the assertion can be made its role is even more important for men than for women. Testosterone reaches its highest levels in a man’s 20s, then production of it slows significantly by 35. This condition leads to what is called “andropause,” similar to menopause in women, which can cause depression, loss of focus and motivation, decreases in muscle mass and bone strength and even erectile dysfunction.

On a more severe note, massive decreases in testosterone can seriously impact a man’s health in dire ways. Men become more prone to disabilities with learning, Alzheimer’s disease, prostate cancer, osteoporosis and other serious diseases. In the extreme, a major drop in testosterone production can lead to diabetes, coronary heart disease and even death.

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Increasing Testosterone Levels with Sex

Hypogonadism is a disease that affects the testicles and pituitary gland in men and the ovaries in women.  If diagnosed with this disease, both sexes have the option to participate in testosterone replacement therapy. Dispensed as injections, gels or pellets, the therapy’s success rate is sketchy.  Negative health effects from the therapy can also be dangerous, and doctors have stated no detectable change in testosterone levels occur in neither men nor women.

However, a group of medical researchers believe they have discovered a solution.  They claim the more one has sex, the more testosterone levels will rise since testosterone levels drop significantly when sexual activity decreases. Does this mean these doctors are giving their permission for men and women to push their partners toward more sex or to just be promiscuous?

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That’s doubtful, but not many doctors, researchers, nor scientists have ever studied the hormone this closely, so no one really has definitive answers. For his part, all a physician can do is measure testosterone levels and conclude a diagnosis based on the results. Hard pressed for a way to boost testosterone levels, doctors, instead of prescribing supplements, would probably recommend lifestyle changes.

Increasing Testosterone Levels Naturally

Many people consult with their physician when they’re concerned about their testosterone levels, but there are a variety of non-evasive, lifestyle changes you can make today that will result in elevated testosterone levels.

More Sleep Versus Less

Sleep is something we all take for granted. Usually, the right amount of sleep (anywhere from 6-8 hours) will leave us rested and refreshed. Lack of enough sleep not only makes it hard to concentrate, leaves one feeling groggy and irritable, but can also impact a man’s sex drive and even lead to erectile dysfunction. Those problems are in addition to other health related ramifications, including a significant decrease in testosterone levels.

In fact, a study conducted in 2011 of ten men in their mid 20s over 11 nights (eight of which where the subjects were allowed only five hours of sleep) researchers discovered a 15 percent drop in daytime testosterone levels.

A Healthy Diet and Monitoring Weight

Maintaining a healthy diet is something that both men and women struggle with. Without realizing it, the daily stresses of life can lead to eating at off hours, overeating and eating more junk food or fast-food.  Before one knows it, they have gained weight.  All these bad dietary decisions can lead to a 50 percent decrease in testosterone.

That said, both men and women should focus their diets around whole foods that offer healthy sources of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Chocolate, certain fruits and herbs are also good for increasing not only testosterone but libido as well. Additionally, if one wants to increase testosterone levels by losing weight, it’s better to participate in an activity (running, walking, swimming, etc.) instead of using other methods.

Eliminating Stress

It goes without saying that stress can cause major health issues in addition to a decrease in testosterone levels. Cortisol, another hormone that helps to regulate immunity and metabolism, becomes elevated by stress. Of course, being told by a doctor or another medical professional that we need to minimize stress is easier said than done. But this is where diet, getting good sleep and being active can help as well as trying to prepare for situations that may induce stress.

Supplements, Medications and Alcohol

DHEA is a hormone that aids in the production of testosterone. If testosterone levels are low, a natural way to increase it (and DHEA) is through vitamin D. At least 15 minutes a day of full exposure can help as well as foods like fish, milk, and cereal. A vitamin D supplement is also a possibility, and it has helped some men, especially older men. Zinc and magnesium, which can also be obtained through food, can also aid in elevating testosterone levels.

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While most supplemental vitamins are safe to take, depending, of course, on the amount and frequency, some of them can have negative effects. The same is true for some prescribed medications like statins. In fact, prescription drugs often reduce testosterone levels. Alcohol can also lower testosterone levels in addition to possibly disrupting male reproduction and causing cell damage.

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Trying to determine why men and women have increased or decreased sexual desire is very difficult. So, by studying the root causes (as in testosterone levels), researchers and doctors have made it easier to assess then address ways to increase it and, ultimately, sexual desire. Still, people respond differently to testosterone therapy (and even lifestyle changes), so the effectiveness of one approach over another can’t be predicted. But if you are suffering with a stagnant libido or having issues with fatigue, weight gain, etc., it’s worth investigating some of these approaches by first consulting with your doctor.



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Ryan Tronier

Ryan Tronier is a writer and editor who has worked with NBC, ABC, and USA Today.
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