Testosterone and Sex Drive

Where is it Produced?

Although usually thought of as a male hormone, testosterone is also made in small quantities in women. It is produced in both the ovaries and the adrenal glands (located at the top of the kidneys). In men, the testes produce testosterone. As women age, their bodies produce less of all the sex hormones, which include estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. By age 40, the production of testosterone in a woman's body is about half the amount made in the 20s. Although the ovary does continue to produce testosterone after menopause, these levels drop gradually after this time. Women who have their ovaries surgically removed have even lower levels of testosterone.

Sexual Dysfunction

Several years ago, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a national survey showing that 43 percent of all women 18 to 59 years old suffer from some type of sexual dysfunction. Different kinds of sexual dysfunction include problems with desire, arousal, orgasm and sex pain disorders. Sexuality is a complex process in the body, and incorporates family, societal and religious beliefs. It is altered with aging, health status, personal experience, and interpersonal relationships. A breakdown in any of these areas may lead to sexual dysfunction. It is also important to note that low energy and decreased libido are also signs of depression.

The Link to Libido

Some researchers have theorized that a woman's libido is linked to her testosterone level. Because of this, interest has grown in testosterone therapy for women to improve sexual desire. However, there is little scientific data to support the efficacy of testosterone supplementation in boosting sex drive. One major problem is that most published studies have evaluated women whose ovaries were removed and were therefore testosterone-deficient. Other studies have used very high levels (supraphysiologic) of testosterone replacement. Because of this lack of data, there are currently no guidelines for testosterone replacement therapy for women with disorders of desire. There is also no consensus of "normal" or "therapeutic" levels of testosterone supplementation.

Despite the lack of data on the usefulness of testosterone for the boosting of sexual desire, testosterone products and information are out there in force. If one uses the Internet as a research tool to find out about what can be done to jump start sex drive, it would appear that testosterone is a simple answer. But the truth is that sexual desire is complex, and for most women simply popping a pill is not the answer.

Is Testosterone Replacement Safe?

There is very little data about the safety and long-term effects of testosterone supplementation in women. Testosterone is converted in the body to estrogen, and it is thus possible that testosterone could compound the carcinogenic effects of estrogen on the breast and the uterus. Side effects of testosterone supplementation can include rages or anger, voice deepening, acne, facial hair, weight gain and liver disease. Many members of the medical community have not embraced testosterone therapy for women. They believe that without long-term studies to support its efficacy and safety, testosterone should be used cautiously, if at all.

What about DHEA?

DHEA, short for dehydroepiandrosterone, is quickly becoming the next big nutritional supplement craze. DHEA is a steroid hormone produced (partly from cholesterol) by the adrenal glands of both males and females, males making slightly more than females. The body converts DHEA into the steroid sex hormones—testosterone, in particular, and estrogen. As such, this supplement generates the same concerns as those of medically prescribed testosterone replacement therapy.

Best Advice

The best advice about testosterone and DHEA is to talk to your doctor. In the meantime, it may be worthwhile to start with something with multiple health benefits: exercise regularly and eat a healthful and varied diet. Many emotional and bodily changes can undoubtedly affect one's sexuality. In addition, having a partner who finds you sexually enticing, being turned on by your partner, and paying attention to your sexuality may be as effective as testosterone supplementation—and better for your health. This is certainly not as easy as just popping a supplement or taking a medication—it's work! However, it's a safer and a better way of achieving stronger bones, lean body mass, more energy, elevated mood and enhanced sexuality.