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What role does testosterone play in women's sexual health?

Testosterone plays a role in women's sexual desire and satisfaction. Unlike estrogen, testosterone levels don't suddenly plummet at menopause, but, rather, decline gradually beginning in the mid-twenties. By the time a woman reaches menopause, her body is producing about half as much as it did when she was in her twenties.

Researchers are still debating testosterone's role in women's sexuality. They think it contributes to blood flow and arousal of the clitoris and labia (the tissue around the vagina) which, in turn, contributes to arousal and orgasm. Hormone receptors are prevalent in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls sexual function and mood. So, it appears that both estrogen and testosterone may influence getting a woman "in the mood."

But the precise role of testosterone in female sexual desire is still being determined. Although most studies confirm that testosterone is strongly related to sexual drive, the correlation between sexual problems and low levels or testosterone is inconsistent (that is, testosterone levels do not predict sexual desire levels). More research is needed to define the significance of testosterone levels in women and what constitutes "normal" testosterone levels in postmenopausal women.

Nonetheless, studies find that women with abnormally low levels of testosterone benefit sexually with supplemental testosterone. We also know that taking oral estrogen could reduce levels of available testosterone by increasing the amount of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Testosterone links up with SHBG, making it useless to sexuality.

This content originally appeared on HealthyWomen.org.

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