Testosterone and Sexual Arousal

A growing literature has linked low sexual desire to low androgen levels in women. In recent years, exogenous testosterone, or the adrenal hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) which serves as a precursor for testosterone, has been prescribed for women with low sexual desire. These treatments have been effective in some women with abnormally low testosterone levels, but not among women with normal testosterone (e.g., Meston & Heiman, 2002) and there are often unwanted side effects of testosterone administration (e.g., facial hair, acne). Very few studies have looked at the effects sexual activity may have on endogenous androgens in women. We (Hamilton & Meston, 2010) examined whether testosterone levels are influenced by either sexual activity or the anticipation of sexual activity in women. Women in long distance relationships provided five saliva samples: at least one week before seeing their partner (and at least 2 weeks since their last sexual contact), the day before seeing their partner, when they were with their partner but prior to engaging in sexual activity, the day after their first sexual activity, and three days after their last sexual activity. As expected, salivary testosterone was found to be lowest when participants had abstained from sex for at least two weeks, highest in anticipation of sexual activity and the day after sexual activity, but declined in the presence of their partner (first seeing each other – before any sexual activity). Testosterone levels returned to baseline once the partner left. The present findings have important clinical implications in that they reveal a natural, non-invasive way of increasing androgens endogenously.

Recommended paper: 

Hamilton, LD, Meston, CM (2010). The effects of partner togetherness on salivary testosterone in women in long distance relationships. Hormones and Behavior, 57, 198-202. PDF (177 KB)