The Hormones of Desire

couple in bedWhile hormones play an important part when it comes to sex and desire, their role is complex, intertwined and, despite years of research, still difficult to pin down.

Here's what we do know: While numerous hormones are involved in sexual desire and sex itself, two of the main ones appear to be estrogen and testosterone.

Estrogen. You know this hormone primarily for the role it plays in fertility and reproduction (and staving off those hot flashes). But estrogen is to your vulva and vagina what moisturizer is to your face—critical for keeping things moist, flexible and healthy down there.

With less estrogen comes vulvar and vaginal changes, some of them significant. The genital tissue can become dry and less acidic, increasing the risk of infection. It takes longer to get lubricated for sex, even if you're full of desire. Over time, estrogen deficiency can lead to more significant changes in the entire urinary and genital area, including reduced blood flow to the vagina. The result: dryness, irritation and pain upon intercourse, also called "dyspareunia."

Estrogen loss can also lead to changes in the size and sensitivity of the vulva, vagina and clitoris as well as reducing blood flow to these areas.

Testosterone. You might think of testosterone as a male only hormone, but all women produce some testosterone, just as all men produce some estrogen. Much of our testosterone is produced by the ovaries.