Testosterone, the hormone for both sexes
I see it in my office every day. Women come in who don’t feel sexy, men who can’t get it up, and couples for whom sex is a distant memory. Yes the issue can be that your partner is driving you nuts and isn’t doing the work to turn you on. And sometimes these problems are caused by general exhaustion, emotional challenges, baggage about sex, psychological factors, and general relationship conflicts. But more times than not, sexual challenges are created when something goes wrong with the internal power supply. For men whose heads are clear, and whose bodies are working properly, it’s usually all systems go. I think most women have a sense that men think about sex a lot. But when the man in your life starts reaching for the remote control rather than pinching your bottom, it could be a hormonal difficulty.
I call it the “Archie Bunker Syndrome”. Named after the grumpy old curmudgeon in the 70’s sitcom, the Archie Bunker Syndrome is what happens to men as they age and their testosterone starts depleting. You may be living with an “Archie”. You can recognize them as men who have beer bellies, fall asleep on the couch after dinner, and are no longer interested in chasing you around the house for sex. I have a physician friend of mine who thinks that most men over 50 should be on at least a base supplemental level of testosterone. For the men in our lives, testosterone (T) is the main hormone that keeps them active, healthy, and masculine. I also like to say it’s responsible for those sexy playoff beards. There are a few over the counter supplements for raising testosterone as well as some suggestions like increasing the amount of celery you feed your partner and suggesting they bath their testicles in cold water after a shower. You may get a better result than I did when I pitched that idea.
So it’s vital for men but how relevant is it for women? In a word, essential. As a sex therapist I spend a great deal of my day talking about how low T can impact your libido. Yet it’s one of those hormones that your doctor rarely tests you for, and you often have to ask for it specifically. I have clients send me their free testosterone numbers and often suggest they investigate whether or not a hormonal imbalance between their many hormones may be causing their depression-like symptoms. It’s certainly related (along with a few other hormones) to the physical factors causing the loss of sex drive. But testosterone is more than simply the barometer of how horny you may be. It’s what puts that wiggle in our hips, the bounce in our steps and the urge to leap out of bed in the morning.
Here’s what happens. We hit 40 and we may start to feel less aroused, less able to lose weight and generally start to feel sluggish. Testosterone is the hormone that begins to decline anywhere from ages 35 to 40. Followed by a decrease in progesterone and then finally at 50 our estrogen plummets. It’s the loss of estrogen that we associate with menopause, hot flashes and sleep problems. But our hormones have been depleting over the previous 10 years during peri-menopause. According to the fabulous book about women and testosterone called The Secret Female Hormone by Dr. Kathy Maupin, it’s really the loss of testosterone that leaves us feeling old. Testosterone is responsible for our youthful bodies. It improves muscle mass, and skin elasticity. Low testosterone in women causes an increase in cellulite, dry eyes, abdominal fat, fatigue, autoimmune reactions such as arthritis, dry skin and hair loss. The problem is that those symptoms are masked among a variety of other causes that has both you and your doctor thinking about other issues besides hormonal depletion.
The problem is that finding the right amount of testosterone isn’t an exact science. Traditionally, women were given male amounts (the only thing originally on the market) which quite literally put hair on their chests. As one woman described to me who had abnormally high testosterone results “I want to kill him, not jump him”. However the science is starting to catch up. We have a few compounding pharmacies in town that make bio-identical hormones that are exactly the right amount for your blood work. We have specialists in town that know the power of balancing progesterone and testosterone based on evidence-based medicine. There really is no one size fits all when it comes to hormones. Test and use the amount that you would have naturally produced when you were 30. I think anything that gets us back to how we felt at 30 is a public service. And if it’s something your body makes anyway, and it’s done in conjunction with your physician, testosterone can be the difference between night and day in terms of how sexy you feel. I think we need to become the experts of our own bodies. That means asking questions of our doctors, keeping a journal of our own blood work results, and becoming better aware of what’s changing. Our sexual selves may need some attention. I think exploring the reasons that you may not be feeling as sexy is critically important to quality of life. There is a great quote by Judith Plaskow that reads “If sexuality is one dimension of our ability to live passionately in the world then in cutting off our sexual feelings we diminish our overall power to feel and value deeply.” So if you have lost that bounce in your step, or you live a Carol O’Connor character I encourage you to investigate further.