Jul 19

Female Sexual Dysfunction and Androgens: The Real Deal


Just because you’ve gone through menopause doesn’t mean sex—and the DESIRE for sex—should stop.

Ten years ago, a sex study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that 43% of women suffer from sexual dysfunction at some point…compared to just 31% of men.

To be fair, and clear, the conclusions drawn from this study continue to be hotly debated since publication, as many in the healthcare profession raised concerns about the medicalization of women’s sexuality and the integrity of this study’s conclusions, which many specialists consider exaggerated.

That said, many women find the age related decrease in sexual urges disturbing and distressing.

Traditionally, a woman reporting problems with libido finds herself thwarted in her efforts to restore prior sexual appetites, as the medical profession is notorious for telling women they have to “live with it”.

Male and female symbols

Testosterone is good for girls AND boys

Despite this, the only FDA-approved treatments for problems between the sheets—Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra—target men.

This is why Procter and Gamble introduced Intrinsa, a testosterone patch medication designed to treat female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, caused by natural reductions in testosterone as women approach age 50. Low testosterone can affect libido and sexual arousal.

FSD involves any condition involving the inability to become or remain aroused during sex, the inability to achieve an orgasm,  and/or the presence of pain during intercourse. Not all of these symptoms are due to testosterone deficiency. The symptoms of FSD are often more prominent during hormonally vulnerable periods, like menopause or during lactation and breast feeding. Menopause can occur naturally with age, or abruptly when a woman’s ovaries are removed surgically.

Intrinsa is targeted at women who have undergone the menopausal transition and who are suffering sexually as a result of the age-related, inevitable drop in testosterone levels. Intrinsa  is a clear, egg-shaped patch which adheres to the skin on a woman’s belly that works by releasing small, controlled amounts of testosterone into a woman’s bloodstream.

Testosterone is a “masculine” sex hormone which is produced by a woman’s ovaries and adrenal gland. A woman’s testosterone level drops with most with birth control pills, and always with natural or surgical menopause. By age 45 or so, most women’s testosterone levels have decreased  by 50% from peak levels in the mid-20’s!

The theoretical clinical benefit to increasing serum levels of testosterone in the blood is to  reduce libido and arousal symptoms of FSD. Being a patch, Intrinsa CAN cause side effects, such as rash, redness, itching, and irritation at the patch site.

More importantly, testosterone is a powerful hormone, to be used with the greatest of caution and fastidious monitoring. More is NOT better! Because testosterone is a male sex hormone, overdosing may cause extremely troubling and potentially irreversible side effects such as: deepening of the voice, an increase in facial hair, enlargement of the clitoris, weight gain, cardiovascular conditions and hair loss.

Despite Intrinsa’s promise to effectively treat sexual dysfunction, however, the US FDA rejected the medication in 2004, citing a need for more studies. As a result, Proctor and Gamble took Intrinsa to Europe, where it is available by prescription. If you want to try Intrinsa, clear it with your doctor and hop the red-eye. Otherwise, women in the States suffering arousal disorder-type sexual dysfunction can talk to their gynecologist about diagnosing and treating androgen deficiency syndrome…a fancy term for “low testosterone”, that may be treatable with off-label applications of currently available hormone preparations on this side of the pond.


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