Testosterone is often cast as the manly hormone, the chemical bestower of masculinity, and the reason for men's high sex drives. But new research turns this conventional wisdom on its head.
In healthy men, it turns out that testosterone isn't linked to sexual desire at all. And in women, high testosterone is actually associated with less interest in sex with a partner.
Complicating the picture further, while high-testosterone women may be less interested in slipping between the sheets with a lover, high testosterone is linked to greater interest in masturbation in healthy women, according to research detailed online in May in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
The findings are unique because most studies of sexual desire and hormones use either animal subjects or focus on people with abnormally low or high testosterone who come into clinics for treatment, said study researcher Sari van Anders, a behavioral neuroendocrinologist at the University of Michigan. Healthy individuals are rarely studied, van Anders told LiveScience.
"People have argued that sex research focuses too much on dysfunction and pharmaceutical treatment as opposed to questions like pleasure or relationships or stress," van Anders said. "There is a whole scope of factors that go unstudied."
Delving into desire
When people do study factors such as stress and body image regarding people's sex lives, they rarely look at hormonal influences at the same time. That's what van Anders did differently.
She recruited volunteers from university classes and community fliers to fill out questionnaires on their relationships, their stress and moods, and their own feelings about their bodies and sexuality.
These questions were designed to get at factors that influence people's sex lives: How happy are you, generally? How stressed? Are you self-conscious about your body during sex?
The 196 volunteers (105 men and 91 women) also answered questions about how frequently they had partnered sex and masturbated, and how often they had the desire to masturbate or to have sex with a partner.
People tend to think of desire as a single phenomenon, but the desire to have sex may come from a different place than the urge to masturbate, van Anders said.
"When you're feeling sexual desire for a partner there might be other factors that play into that, for example, how you felt about that partner that day, how attracted you feel to that partner, how attractive you feel to that partner, your relationship and things like that," van Anders said. [6 Great Things Sex Can Do For You]
Solitary desire, on the other hand, might be more internal and less influenced by social factors like relationship satisfaction, she said.
Testosterone and libido
Each study participant gave a saliva sample for hormonal analysis. Van Anders measured testosterone as well as cortisol, a hormone released in times of stress (a surefire libido-killer).
She then compared low-versus-high testosterone participants and their self-reported levels of desire. In men, she found, levels of testosterone had nothing to do with how much guys thought about sex, solitary or partnered.
Multiple studies have found that men generally desire sex more frequently than women. And men also produce more testosterone than women.
These two facts have led to the belief that testosterone is the reason for the desire, van Anders said. But that idea is based on animal studies and studies of men who produce extreme, abnormally low levels of testosterone. In men in the healthy range, an extra spurt of the "macho hormone" doesn't seem to influence interest in getting busy.
"In this regular, healthy range of testosterone, it's high enough that the variations aren't what's driving any changes," van Anders said. (There have been studies, though very few, showing similar results.)
Things get a bit more complicated on the female side. Women with higher testosterone reported less desire for partnered sex. It may seem strange, but the finding fits with previous evidence, van Anders said.
For example, women in long-term relationships have been shown to have lower testosterone. It could be that their partner's desire relates to a need to be close and connected as opposed to merely a need for pleasure, van Anders said.
Alternatively, higher testosterone might reflect higher stress in women. Testosterone is secreted by the adrenal glands, which go into overdrive during stressful times.
Solitary sexual desire, on the other hand, was higher in the higher-testosterone women, such that the 27 women in the study who reported no desire to masturbate at all had lower testosterone than the women who said they sometimes felt the urge to masturbate.
The finding bolsters the idea that craving for a partner is more influenced by social factors, van Anders said, while solitary desire is more innate.
Next, van Anders looked into the burning question of why men, on average, want sex more often than the average woman. Sure enough, she found that testosterone was not the culprit. Levels of this hormone did not explain the differences in desire between men and women.
The only factor that did link to gender differences was masturbation. Men masturbated more than women and reported more sexual desire (with a partner and solitary). Women masturbated less and reported less desire.
There's no way to tell from this research whether the desire or the masturbation comes first. But there are intriguing hints that perhaps the difference in masturbation habits could explain the desire gap, van Anders said. Sex therapists often tell low-desire patients to try starting sex or masturbation even if they feel uninterested. Usually, the desire follows.
Though female masturbation has become less taboo, it is still somewhat stigmatized compared to male masturbation, van Anders said. It's possible that women simply don't practice revving up their desires as much as men do.
"The idea is that if women don't feel comfortable with their genitals and masturbating, and if they don't think it's okay and refrain from doing it and don't express their desires, after a while, the desire might change as well," van Anders said.
The next step, van Anders said, is to get a better handle on the concept of desire, focusing on social factors and not just pharmaceutical fixes for low libidos. People often think that the desire comes first and drives people to seek out sexual pleasure, she said.
In reality, passion is a lot like hunger, she said. You might eat because you're starving, or because you're bored, or because it's 6:30 p.m. and that's when you have dinner.
"When you're saying you desire sexuality with another person, what are you desiring, and are people desiring different things sometimes?" van Anders said. "Are some people more desiring to be with their partner, to give their partner pleasure, to have a routine, or for their own pleasure?"
- What is testosterone? - May 23rd, 2021
- Tribulus Terrestris Review Does It Raise Testosterone or ... - May 22nd, 2021
- Boosting testosterone levels (First of two parts) - May 8th, 2021
- How long does it take for Testosterone replacement treatments and therapy to work? - May 1st, 2021
- What Is Testosterone AndroGel - April 28th, 2021
- Low T - My life was falling apart because I had low testosterone - April 25th, 2021
- Deer Antler, HGH and Testosterone: Tim on Scott and BR Radio Show - Video - April 17th, 2021
- What is Testosterone? What does Testosterone do? Find on - April 14th, 2021
- How Testosterone Affects the Skin of Men - April 11th, 2021
- Testosterone, the Power Hormone - April 8th, 2021
- Testosterone Levels and Wall Street - March 27th, 2021
- Women can resist testosterone-fuelled political debate - March 12th, 2021
- Baby Boomers find “The Fountain of Youth” in Testosterone - March 4th, 2021
- Declining Testosterone Levels in Men Not Part of Normal Aging - February 28th, 2021
- Quick Weight Loss Tips and Diet Recommendations for HRT - February 28th, 2021
- Testosterone and Alcohol: Your Health and the Holiday Season - February 27th, 2021
- Testosterone builds muscle but has risks - February 25th, 2021
- New Study Finds That Testosterone Does Not Increase Cardiovascular Risk - February 22nd, 2021
- Evidence Suggests Testosterone Plays Powerful Role in Motivating Revolutionary Change - February 15th, 2021
- The Effects of Parenthood Upon Testosterone Levels - January 9th, 2021
- Testicular Cancer Survivors are at Risk for Low Testosterone - January 6th, 2021
- Amygdala and it's Relationship to Testosterone and Fear - December 25th, 2020
- Testosterone Does Not Cause Atherosclerosis (Hardening of the Arteries) in Older Men - December 24th, 2020
- Increased Testosterone DOES NOT Cause Prostate Cancer to Spread - December 23rd, 2020
- Testosterone Cypionate and Testosterone Enanthate: The Real Facts - December 20th, 2020
- A Surprising Side Effect of Methadone Treatment: Suppressed Testosterone - December 18th, 2020
- The Testosterone Industry Globally is Booming - December 12th, 2020
- Five Benefits of Testosterone That You Need to Know - December 11th, 2020
- Testosterone Nasal Gel: A New Form of Testosterone Replacement Therapy - December 5th, 2020
- New Research Proves Testosterone Replacement Therapy is Safe for the Heart - December 3rd, 2020
- Skinny Bartender with Low Testosterone Becomes a Ripped Bodybuilder - December 3rd, 2020
- Low-T and Your Health - November 30th, 2020
- Low Testosterone Levels may Affect Man's Sex Drive and Affect his Intimate Relationships - November 19th, 2020
- Is Testosterone the New Drug of Choice on Wall Street? How Traders are Using Male Hormone Booster Shots to Maintain a ... - November 12th, 2020
- Shorter course of ADT for high-risk prostate cancer patients yields improved quality of life - November 11th, 2020
- Testosterone Litigation: What You Need To Know - MTMP - Video - November 9th, 2020
- Methadone Lowers Testosterone in Men Only - November 8th, 2020
- Intricate relationship between Oestrogen & Testosterone XXY Guys (Klinefelters' syndrome) - Video - November 7th, 2020
- Should middle-aged men consider 'low T' treatment? - November 5th, 2020
- Testosterone and Crime: What Can Genes Tell Us About Behavior? - Video - October 25th, 2020
- Testosterone shown to help sexually frustrated women - October 22nd, 2020
- Testosterone levels seen prior to birth in fetus' fingers, jawline - October 20th, 2020
- Tri-Blend Testosterone. Understanding the Benefits of Testosterone Oils - October 19th, 2020
- Testosterone levels in older men - October 17th, 2020
- Tlando Testosterone Clinical Trial for Low-T and Fatty Liver Disease - October 4th, 2020
- Testosterone Focus in Diabetes Study – Video - September 30th, 2020
- Testshock Review All Natural Testosterone Enhancement – Video - September 30th, 2020
- Testosterone, Anxiety, and Depression - September 30th, 2020
- Average Testosterone Levels Decreasing Over Time Among Younger American Men - August 21st, 2020
- Testosterone Creams for Low Testosterone Treatment and Andropause - August 10th, 2020
- Testosterone Therapy and Androgen Deficiency Guide - August 6th, 2020
- Testosterone's Surprising Link to Men's 'Love Hormone' Oxytocin - August 5th, 2020
- Fortesta Brand Testosterone Therapy - August 3rd, 2020
- Andropause: Age-Associated Testosterone Decline - August 1st, 2020
- How to Build Muscle Quickly by Boosting Testosterone Levels - July 29th, 2020
- Testosterone Deficiency Strongly Linked to Heart Attack Risk in New Study - July 26th, 2020
- Seven Types of Drugs That Can Inhibit Sex Drive and Libido - July 22nd, 2020
- Testosterone and Geriatric Frailty - July 21st, 2020
- Testosterone and Aggression: How T-Levels Impact Human Response to External, Social Threats - July 12th, 2020
- High-Dose Testosterone Injections May Be a Viable Palliative Late-Stage Prostate Cancer Treatment - July 12th, 2020
- Could Civilization Have Been Formed as a Result of Declining Testosterone Levels in Males? - July 6th, 2020
- Testosterone Therapy Allows Man to Have the Body That He Was Meant to Have - July 5th, 2020
- Testosterone Injections for Low-T and Andropause - July 4th, 2020
- Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) Reduces the Risk of Serious Adverse Health Consequences! - June 30th, 2020
- More Sex: A Better Way to Boost Your Testosterone Levels - June 29th, 2020
- Testosterone not always to blame - Sat, 04 Aug 2012 PST - June 28th, 2020
- Five Facts About Testosterone (That Maybe You Didn't Know) - June 27th, 2020
- Manhood Washed Away: You Could Unknowingly be Annihilating Your Testosterone - June 23rd, 2020
- Testosterone: Should You Take it to Regain Your Libido and Youthful Energy? - June 22nd, 2020
- Testosterone Replacement Therapy Boosts Aerobic Capacity - June 15th, 2020
- Physiology of Testosterone - June 9th, 2020
- The Truth Behind Common Male Sex Myths - May 26th, 2020
- Dr. Andre Berger on Testosterone Deficiency in Men - Andropause Symptoms and Treatment By Doctor's Desk Series - May 21st, 2020
- How to Raise Testosterone Naturally. Sermorelin - Some Have Called It A The New Fountain of Youth. A Natural Cure for Anxiety and Depression. - May 9th, 2020
- Are Athletes Using Green Tea to Mask Testosterone Doping? - May 7th, 2020
- Some Animal Research Suggests that High Testosterone May Increase Prostate Cancer Risk - May 5th, 2020
- Eleven Foods that Can Drain Your Libido - May 4th, 2020
- Testosterone Can Make Us Generous, But Only When We Do Not Perceive a Threat - May 3rd, 2020
- A New Link Between Testosterone and the Prevention of Dementia in Women - May 3rd, 2020
- Why Women Make Better Money Managers - April 30th, 2020
Word Count: 1128