Hormones and Sexuality Are Intimately Linked

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Functional Medicine Specialist Dr. Marsha Nunley of H.E.A.L. Medical Provides Tips for Maintaining an Active Sex Life.

Dr. Marsha Nunley

Diminished sexual satisfaction and loss of libido are not irreversible consequences of aging.

Most women experience fluctuations in their level of sexual desire over the course of their lives and not always in expected patterns. During the childrearing years and the perimenopausal period as the reproductive hormones start to change, many women suffer a decrease in libido and sexual function. “In fact, a woman's desire for sex is based on the complex interaction of any number of physical, psychological, and relationship-based factors,” says functional medicine specialist Dr. Marsha Nunley, founder of H.E.A.L. Medical. “Sometimes it’s as simple as a woman’s changing hormones.” According to Dr. Nunley you can have an active and satisfying sex life at every age, and if it’s not going the way you want, consult a hormone specialist for guidance.

Hormones control just about every aspect of bodily function. They are chemical messengers that are produced by the endocrine glands and transported via the bloodstream to cells throughout the body where they signal the cells to perform their assigned tasks. Hormones regulate growth and metabolism, control immune function and reproduction, and influence emotions and mood. “Hormones are potent,” says Dr. Nunley. “Just a tiny amount can have a powerful effect. That's why monitoring hormone levels is so important – even small fluctuations can cause major changes in the body.”

The hormones that are most important in affecting a woman's sexual desire and functioning are estrogen and testosterone, which are present at different levels and play different roles throughout her life.

  • Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone produced by the ovaries. It controls the development of female sex organs and secondary female sex characteristics during adolescence, regulates the menstrual cycle, and prepares the uterus for pregnancy. When estrogen levels drop, as they do during some phases of the menstrual cycle, after childbirth, during nursing, and more dramatically, at menopause, women may experience a corresponding drop in libido, painful sex, mood swings and up and down emotions.
  • Testosterone, plays a role in libido in women and men. Low levels of testosterone and fluctuating levels of estrogen may be associated with low libido and poor sexual response during perimenopause and menopause.

“Loss of sexual desire at any age may be due to a to a combination of factors,” says Dr. Nunley. “A good place to start is to see a hormone specialist and get your hormone levels tested including thyroid testing.” At the same time, Dr. Nunley suggests to look at other physical, psychological, and emotional factors. If hormone levels are outside normal ranges, the imbalance may be relieved by hormone therapy. The most common cause of a deficit of sex hormones is the natural decline that occurs at menopause.

The majority of women experience sexual changes at menopause and may lose interest in sex, have difficulty becoming aroused or reaching orgasm, or may suffer discomfort during intercourse due to vaginal dryness and thinning of the tissues. “Diminished sexual satisfaction and loss of libido are not irreversible consequences of aging,” Dr. Nunley says. “Many women and their partners find that accommodating changes and appropriate hormone replacement can rekindle interest and intimacy and most people can continue to enjoy a sexual relationship well into their golden years.”

Marsha Nunley, M.D., founder of H.E.A.L. Medical is board-certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and palliative care. Dr. Nunley specializes in functional medicine, a systems-based approach to treating the whole person. http://www.marshanunleymd.com

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