Testosterone levels appear to be significantly linked with both the type of intimate relationships men and women engage in and their sexual behavior, according to new research published today in the peer-reviewed The Journal of Sex Research.
The findings from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) provide the first detailed insights into how the hormone is differently implicated in the sexual behavior of men and women at the population level.
The researchers measured testosterone in saliva samples from nearly 4,000 adults and used questionnaires to investigate links between androgen quantity and how people express their sexuality.
Men with higher levels of the hormone were more likely to have had more than one sexual partner at the same time in the last five years, and to have engaged in recent heterosexual vaginal sex, according to the analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), UCL, University of Manchester, and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen).
In women, testosterone levels were significantly higher in those who had ever experienced a same sex relationship and reported solitary sexual activity (masturbation) more recently and more frequently.
Until now, testosterone has commonly been regarded as the biological driver of sexual desire in men, although evidence is inconclusive. Its role in female desire is even less understood.
The authors say the findings help address ‘the deficit’ in attention paid to the role of androgens in women’s sexuality.
“There’s a sparsity of population level data on the differences between men and women in the relationship between testosterone and sexual function, attitudes and behavior,” says Wendy Macdowall from LSHTM.
“Questions have been raised about the nature of sexual desire in women and how little we understand about what it is that is desired.
“Our data tend to confirm that differences between men and women need to be understood by examining them in the context of social as well as hormonal influences on sexual function and behavior.
Testosterone’s marked link with masturbation among women, in the absence of an observed link with aspects of heterosexual partnered sex, may be seen as consistent with the notion of a stronger moderating effect of social factors on hormonal influences on women’s behavior.”
Past research on hormones and female sexuality has tended to focus solely on aspects of reproduction such as menstruation. In men, the focus has been on their role in the ability to perform sexually such as to achieve an erection.
Participants who had at least one sexual partner in the year prior to interview were asked about problems with sexual function, such as lacking interest in having sex and having trouble getting or keeping an erection. The authors measured a range of sexual behaviors including different practices in the four weeks prior to interview, including frequency of masturbation, and the number/type of partners etc over the past five years/a lifetime.
Overall, there was a stronger link for women than for men between higher testosterone levels and solitary sexual activity as opposed to with a partner. The authors suggest this could be related to the ‘different meanings and motivations women attach to solitary and partnered sex.’
Hormonal Influences and Related Biomarkers in the Context of Ejaculation and Masturbation
The male testis has two central functions: spermatogenesis and synthesis as well as secretion of hormones (Amann, 1989). Sexuality is strongly influenced by hormones (Krüger et al., 2003) in particular, by sex hormones including androgens, estrogens, and progesterone (for a review see Meston and Frohlich, 2000). Human male sexuality is predominantly influenced by the androgen testosterone.
The testosterone synthesis process starts with the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone in the hypothalamus, which in turn acts on the secretion of the gonadotropins luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone in the anterior pituitary. LH subsequently acts on Leydig cells in the testicles and this leads to testosterone release (Hock, 2016). Next to being involved in spermatogenesis (Nassar and Leslie, 2021), testosterone is predominantly associated with the initiation of sexual arousal and desire (Vignozzi et al., 2008); with higher levels of testosterone often being linked to increased sexual activity and interest (e.g., Carani et al., 2005).
Sexual activity itself appears to have a short-term effect on testosterone as far as testosterone levels appear to increase after watching erotic stimuli or penile-vaginal intercourse, as a review shows (Van Anders and Watson, 2006). Additionally, a naturalistic study in a sex club supported that testosterone levels increase temporarily when observing and especially when engaging in sexual behavior (Escasa et al., 2011). Masturbation in particular seems to have the same temporary trend, yet results are limited (Van Anders and Watson, 2006; Escasa et al., 2011).
Studies on patients with erectile dysfunction give further support for an influence of sexual activity on testosterone levels (Jannini et al., 1999, 2009; Carosa et al., 2002, 2004). Low or a loss of sexual activity due to erectile dysfunction is accompanied by low testosterone levels; while a resumption of sexual activity appears to restore testosterone levels, irrespective of the cause or treatment of the erectile dysfunction. To note, sexual activity was ascribed as full sexual intercourse and, therefore, no conclusion specifically concerning masturbation can be drawn yet (Jannini et al., 1999, 2009; Carosa et al., 2002, 2004).
Social media sites that promote masturbatory abstinence regularly claim that there is scientific evidence that abstinence is beneficial for men’s testosterone levels. Those assertions are accompanied by claims that promote stronger mental health (Hartmann, 2020). These sites support their statement by referencing a study (Jiang et al., 2003), in which a peak in serum testosterone levels after 7 days of abstinence was reported in male participants. Notably, the results were reported on the basis of a small sample size. To the best of our knowledge, these results were not replicated so far.
In this line of research, another study investigated the effect of 3-weeks abstinence on different endocrine responses including testosterone. Here, the authors reported that abstinence led to an increase in basal testosterone level, yet did not alter the typical cardiovascular and endocrine responses to orgasm.
Therefore they concluded that abstinence has an insufficient impact on endocrine responses (Exton et al., 2001). To note, this study also had a small sample size. Far-reaching statements about beneficial effects of abstinence on male’s testosterone levels need to be taken with caution. Indeed, the role of testosterone in sexual activity appears to be more nuanced.
In this line of inquiry, a focus lies on identifying the causal direction, meaning whether testosterone levels cause certain sexual behavior (i.e., hormonal causation pattern; Kraemer et al., 1976; Knussmann et al., 1986; Carani et al., 2005; Archer, 2006; Finkelstein et al., 2013) or whether a certain behavior or environment causes testosterone levels to change [i.e., reverse relationship, “social modulation” model (Van Anders and Watson, 2006; Van Anders et al., 2015; Das and Sawin, 2016)].
The causal pattern of testosterone is often studied in connection with sexual activity, relationship commitment, and parenting effort. Das and Sawin (2016), for example, attempted to unravel the causal pattern of the effects of testosterone on frequency of partnered sex and masturbation as well as on relationship quality. They conducted a longitudinal study with a representative United States sample of older, both male and female, adults (aged 57–85).
For the male participants, a higher masturbation frequency predicted higher levels of testosterone which gives support for the social modulation model. On the other hand, higher levels of testosterone negatively affected relationship quality later in life, which points to a hormonal causation (Das and Sawin, 2016). Moreover, the connection between ejaculation frequency and testosterone levels might play a role in understanding and explaining ejaculatory dysfunctions (Rastrelli et al., 2018).
A low level of testosterone is associated with reduced volume in ejaculation and delayed ejaculation. High levels of testosterone are associated with premature ejaculation (Corona et al., 2008). Premature ejaculation, in turn, may influence orgasmic pleasure. In specific, lower scores on the “Orgasmometer,” a subjective measure for the intensity of an orgasm, are observed for individuals with premature ejaculation (Limoncin et al., 2016). The orgasmometer as a tool has also been used to assess orgasmic intensity in healthy individuals (Mollaioli et al., 2021).
As mentioned, the male testis has two major functions. Next to the secretion of hormones, particularly testosterone, testicles produce sperm (Amann, 1989). Testosterone is just one factor that contributes to spermatogenesis and testicular development. Neurotrophins, growth factors in the nervous system, came to our attention, as they are possibly also involved in testis development and spermatogenesis (for a review of the role of neurotrophins in male reproduction see Li and Zhou, 2013).
It is interesting that neurotrophins, which are typically involved in diverse parts of neuronal growth and functions such as differentiation, survival, synaptic plasticity, or apoptosis (Li and Zhou, 2013; Bathina and Das, 2015), appear to be also involved in non-neuronal tissues (Müller et al., 2006; Li and Zhou, 2013). Both, the nerve growth factor (NGF) and the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), belong to the group of neurotrophins and have been found in ejaculated sperm. Especially BDNF was proposed as a marker for semen quality (Zheng et al., 2011).
In line with this is the finding that treatment of sperm with BDNF increases the motility of sperm, as BDNF is assumed to have protective effects against oxidative stress. Therefore, BDNF has been suggested to improve sperm in order to ultimately help fertilization (Najafi et al., 2017).
To note, this area of research is rather limited and we do not want to suggest any association or draw any conclusion of what this means with regard to ejaculation and masturbation frequency in specific. Yet, we want to acknowledge the complex interplay of biomarkers in male sexuality. Along with this and also the next paragraph we want to mention the recent review (Matos et al., 2021) that pointed to a striking similarity between the brain and testis.
Thus, further research is encouraged to generate profound knowledge and aid the understanding of potential relations, for instance that NGF possibly mediates the effects of testosterone in spermatogenesis (Li and Zhou, 2013).
reference link : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8382266/
More information: Salivary testosterone and sexual function and behavior in men and women: Findings from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3), Journal of Sex Research (2021). www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/1 … 0224499.2021.1968327