Past relationships and emotional health may have a much greater influence on menopausal women’s sexual function than hormones. This is according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
The research team, including Dr. John F. Randolph of the University of Michigan Medical School, says that when a woman goes through menopause, both sexual function and reproductive hormones are subject to changes.
Past studies have assessed how hormonal changes affect sexual function – defined as incidence of desire, arousal, orgasm and pain during intercourse – among menopausal women.
Some of these studies have indicated that hormones such as testosterone - the primary sex hormone in men, although women produce it in small amounts – and estradiol play a role in sexual function among this population, but Dr. Randolph and colleagues say the results have been mixed.
Analyzing sexual function, hormone levels of more than 3,300 women
As such, the team set out with the aim of answering this question: “Are baseline or concurrent serum levels, or changes in levels, of measured reproductive hormones related to domains of sexual function in midlife women as they transition through the menopause?”
To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed data from 3,302 women aged 42-52 years who took part in the Study of Women’s Health around the Nation (SWAN).
At study baseline and during annual follow-up visits throughout the 10-year study, the women were required to complete a questionnaire that asked about their frequency of masturbation, sexual desire, sexual arousal, orgasm and any pain experienced during sexual intercourse.
In addition, blood samples were taken from the women and assessed to measure levels of a number of reproductive hormones – including testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) – which the body can convert into either testosterone or estradiol – and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), levels of which naturally increase during menopause.
Relationships, emotional health ‘tremendously important’ to women’s sexual function
Results of the analysis revealed that women who had high levels of testosterone or DHEAS experienced sexual desire more frequently and masturbated more often than women who had low levels of these hormones.
Women who had high levels of FSH, however, masturbated less frequently than those who had low levels of the hormone.
But perhaps the most interesting finding was that hormone levels appeared to have only a subtle influence on women’s overall sexual function. In fact, the team found that having fewer sad moods and higher relationship satisfaction was more strongly associated with better sexual function.
Commenting on these findings, Dr. Randolph says:
“While levels of testosterone and other reproductive hormones were linked to women’s feelings of desire and frequency of masturbation, our large-scale study suggests psychosocial factors influence many aspects of sexual function.
A woman’s emotional well-being and quality of her intimate relationship are tremendously important contributors to sexual health.”
In addition, the researchers say that menopausal women should consider whether emotional well-being or relationship satisfaction may be playing a role in diminished sexual function before undergoing hormone treatment, such as testosterone therapy, of which the long-term health effects are unclear.
In August, Medical News Today reported on a study investigating how gender and sexual orientation influence orgasms. The researchers, from Indiana University, found that single women are less likely to experience an orgasm than single men.
Written by Honor Whiteman