Why women need testosterone for good health

Testosterone is often thought of as a male hormone, but it also plays an important role in female health.

Think of the word testosterone and what immediately comes to mind?

It might be musclebound guys lifting heavy weights in a gym or teenage boys with raging hormones who are navigating the physical and emotional changes of puberty.

While men have 10 to 20 times the amount of testosterone in their body as women – which explains their deeper voice and greater amount of body hair and muscle – females also produce and need testosterone.

“I think testosterone is still thought of as a male hormone, rather than simply as a hormone,” Monash University Women’s Health Professor Susan Davis says.

“It is a human hormone – rather than a male or female hormone.”

How women use testosterone

For women, testosterone plays an important role in muscle and bone strength.

It also helps make oestrogen – a key female hormone that has an important role to play in puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and good bone health.

Research has also found that testosterone is important for healthy sexual function, and it helps increase sexual desire and pleasure for women.

How testosterone changes in women

As with many hormones, the amount of testosterone that women produce changes at different stages of life.

Testosterone levels increase at puberty and then continue to rise until women reach their early 20s.

Professor Davis says from then until about the age of 40, levels decline by about 25 per cent and they continue to fall.

“The biggest decline happens between 20 and 40 and then there is a gradual drift downwards until the age of about 60 – then levels swing upwards again,” Professor Davis says.

What happens if women are testosterone deficient?

There are no obvious symptoms that indicate testosterone deficiency but one effect that some women report after the age of 40 is lack of libido and lack of sexual function and satisfaction.

“Although you can also have low testosterone and still have good sexual function because you are in the right place mentally, physically and relationship-wise,” Professor Davis says.

“And you can have high levels of testosterone and not have great sexual function because you’re not in the right place.

“If a 30-year-old woman who is fit and well and who has regular menstrual cycles has lost interest in sex, I wouldn’t recommend testosterone.

“Her problem will be connected with stress, self-image, a poor relationship or something else in her life.”

When is testosterone treatment an option?

Monash University research found for many postmenopausal women testosterone treatment improved sexual desire, pleasure, arousal and orgasm.

In turn, this improved their self-image and wellbeing, too.

“Research shows for postmenopausal women whose testosterone is reaching bottom and who have low sexual desire that bothers them, testosterone may improve sexual desire and a safe and specific preparation has been approved in Australia for that purpose,” Prof Davis says.

“But it’s important to remember that while treatment can improve testosterone levels, it can’t make them like their partner if they are in an unhappy relationship.

“Testosterone is a normal female hormone and it is part of a jigsaw puzzle of what makes up our sexual wellness.

“Any woman who has questions or concerns about this can talk to their GP to find out whether testosterone treatment may be able to help them.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.